A Look On The Lighter Side: What to do when you’re driven to distraction

A Look On The Lighter Side: What to do when you’re driven to distraction

This Thanksgiving season our family marked a new milestone: our son did all the driving to this year’s family dinner in Philadelphia and back.

This was a huge departure for us. (And, yes, an arrival as well.) I still drive everywhere when I need to, but it was clear our son had much more energy — and interest, to be frank — in doing this driving. And so the car keys were passed to a new generation — at least, for one week.

We were also trying to make things easier on his father, my husband, who had recently recovered from a non-COVID cold so we asked him:

“Dad,” said our son, “Which would be less stressful for you — sitting next to me in the front and navigating or letting Mom do that and you relax in the back?”

“You think that letting your mother navigate would be relaxing for me?” They both laughed.

“You don’t want me to navigate?” I asked, a little miffed.

“Sweetheart, aren’t you the one who famously said, ‘The sun’s in the wrong place’ as your excuse for getting us hopelessly lost on our honeymoon?”

“Well, it was! How was I to know that heading for the coast of England meant going east, not south?”

“I rest my case.”

“Whatever,” I said. So I made a big fuss about settling myself — for the first time since childhood — into the back seat of a car for a journey.

“I’ll need my tote bag.” That’s where I keep snacks. And my phone charger. And my sweater. “And can you pull your seat up any farther?” I barked at my life’s partner, newly dubbed Navigator. “There’s no legroom back here! Who do they think will be sitting here? Children?”

My husband obliged, but I could swear I heard him chortling. “What’s so funny?” I demanded to know.

“Nothing, dear.”

“Well, knock off treating me like a child or I’ll start kicking the back of your seat,” I warned him.

He inched up a little more.

“Are you really okay back there, Mom? I don’t want you miserable for the whole trip.”

“I’m really fine, sweetie, now that I can stretch my legs a bit. I never realized how scrunched-up people are back here.”

I looked around at my new environment.

“Or how boring it is!”

Suddenly, something dawned on me. “I never realized before, but there really is nothing to do back here besides bother your sibling.”

I had always looked down on people whom I assumed were spoiling their kids, giving them screens in the backseat to watch something on. But now I envied those kids. Our car had no such systems. I had books, but I can’t read anything longer than street names in a moving car without getting dizzy, so instead I was driven to listening to podcasts on my phone.

Until the battery died and I had to recharge. At this point, there was nothing to do but pay attention to traffic.

“Look out!” I warned my son, the driver. He swerved. When he recovered, he asked, “What am I looking out for, Mom?”

“There’s a truck.”

“There’s a zillion trucks. What’s your point?”

“It’s in the lane on our right and might move into us at any moment.”

“Mom, I’ve been keeping an eye on that truck for the past half hour. Wouldn’t you like to take a nap?”

“I can’t in all this traffic.”

There were so many threats to our health and safety. Stop-and-go drivers ahead, people weaving in traffic, gravel shooting up on to our windshield from nowhere, not to mention the aforementioned trucks.

“And remember that things tend to fly off pickup trucks that are incompetently tarped,” I warned him.

“I’m aware, Mom. Isn’t there something you usually take when you travel to keep you from worrying so much?”

“That’s for plane trips,” I answered.

He’s right, I hate flying and usually make sure to get a prescription for Valium or the equivalent before I fly anywhere.

Come to think of it, I could consider this as something like a plane trip — except that I’m right in the cockpit with the pilot, who just a few short years ago I was teaching to fly!

I wonder if pilots ever let their parents into their cockpits?

Finally my phone was re-charged and I could listen to reruns of NPR’s “Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me!” for the rest of the trip.

Maybe next year I’ll get myself one of those backseat video screens.

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