Each time I get ready to go out with my kids anymore, I start to get nauseous. I love summer. I really do. It’s my favorite season by far and after last winter I will never complain about the sweltering heat again. But this whole deal of strapping my three kids into their car seats, day in, day out … the long summer days turning seconds into years, it’s all just about the worst thing that has ever happened to anyone anywhere in the history of the world. And yes, that includes murder and slow service at McDonald’s, and whatever else you care to throw in there, okay?
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not usually much of a complainer. But I’ve met my match here. Of course, I should admit upfront that this car of mine isn’t helping matters. It’s a Suzuki Verona that has served our family well, ever since we bought it used to cart our daughter Violet around after her birth almost six years ago. But then Henry came along two years later. And now, since March, we’ve got Charlie too, and everything is just way messed up back there.
It’s a backseat designed to comfortably fit two frail old ladies, Rose and Edna. I imagine they’d be perfectly happy sitting back there on the way to IHOP, driven around by their 92-year-old neighbor, Herman. What it’s not designed to do is facilitate my urgent need to strap three living, breathing children into three separate car safety seats, each one the size of Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee carriage.
I know this isn’t just my life now. It has to be a LOT of people’s lives right now. Especially those of us with used cars with no working A/C; we’re the sad sacks spending entirely too much of our days just trying to get our kids into their carseats. I try to be zen, but it’s impossible, I swear.
I get in there and I’m heaving and shoving my body around, trying to lift one seat in the air so that I can snap a buckle from the chair next to it into the WORST DESIGNED THING that any engineer ever took the time to create. I pull on the safety belt, it stops halfway down and I have to try to feed it back into the slit it lives in just so I can pull it out again and stretch it far enough to work. That part never goes smoothly, of course.
The belt stops, it jams, it hisses at me; resists all my efforts, all of my cheap dreams of a one-two-three, click-click-click-and-their-all-in session! The seatbelt essentially gives me the finger.
Naturally, it’s at this moment that Henry pounds his plastic dragon thing against my scalp. I dig my elbow into his side and try to click the safety belt through sixty-seven different loops and hooks and holes. It’s a booster seat, but it’s not what I had hoped for. I thought it was going to be easy, this booster seat, but no way. It’s terrible. It’s so wide it could double as a helicopter landing pad. Violet has the same sort of thing, except even bigger, with a cup holder sticking out on both sides. (Nice modern touch, that is. I’m sure every toddler in a car needs to have two cup holders just in case she’s double-fisting a shot of apple juice along with her chocolate milk.) To throw salt on the wound, my kids don’t even use the cup-holders. I dreamed that they would back when we were looking at all the different seats in the store, but they don’t. Kids don’t care about added features or details. They chug their drinks down and fling the sippy cups down on the car floor. They don’t care.
They don’t care that I’m clearly suffering here. In fact, my kids like to pinch my skin while I try and buckle them in — which leads to me yelping and letting out some not-so-ideal curses. I know, I know. But I’m a daddy. And I’m simply a shell of my former self.
Up between my jaws, my gums hurt from pushing my head up against the roof of this stupid car just so I can get some leverage before I make one final attempt at landing this buckle end into a receiver slot that I cannot even see; I just know and trust that it is down there lurking in the ultra-tight crevice of darkness between Charlie’s baby carrier base and Violet’s gargantuan booster battleship. I feel the plastic square with my fingertips and my heart jumps for joy!
“THERE IT IS!” I yell, as fat beads of sweat drip down my face. Henry flicks my ear with his syrupy fingers. Violet says rude stuff like, “This is taking a long time, Dad! I have to pee and throw up!”
Charlie, well, my newest son is just a whippersnapper, but don’t count him out! He does what he can. He starts crying hard and the summertime amplifies it until it feels like there’s a 3,000-ton jet plane plowing into my left temple. I stretch my body, my entire being caught up in this life or death game of Hot Twister.
Please, merciful Creator of stars and tomatoes and leopards! Let me feel the snap. Let me feel the unequivocal feel of desire satiated, of the snap taking. I lunge. Then it happens. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! I feel the thing happen that always happens without fail: the receiver part that you click into, the one down in the seat, it slips back down into the crack at the bottom of the bench.
That’s it, then. I’ve had enough.
So, I die.
I slump over and die on top of my precious babies, my weight shifting down on them as they giggle and pinch my dead, neck fat.
It’s a terrible scene, but whatever. They’ll be okay, I think. Someone will find me eventually, all bloated and purple, my puffed-up carcass being eaten by flies, and chances are that Violet and Henry and Charlie will all be sitting there singing the theme song from Sponge Bob, happy as pigs in mud. They’re kids in summer, remember that. Nothing can break their little spirits except maybe a dropped ice cream cone or poopy pants.
Whatever. I’ll take it. Even eternal demise is better than dealing with car safety seats for even one more mystically hot day, am I right?
Image: M. Bielanko private
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