When my son was almost 2 years old, he stopped routinely taking naps in the car. His new alertness made me much more alert of other cars around me, and before I knew it, I had started composing a driving manifesto in my mind. Before then it didn’t matter if we were in the car for five minutes or an hour, he happily caught some Zzz’s and we were both oblivious. What changed was his realization of what was happening outside of his window. There were vehicles! Exciting vehicles like firetrucks, garbage trucks, street sweepers, and oh the excitement of spotting a cement mixer!
Soon my son started noticing that the vehicles weren’t driving themselves, but were driven by people. Sometimes these people nodded to my little guy or waved. This kind of kindness from strangers made me want to write love songs to humanity. I’ll never forget the day an entire crew of sanitation workers waved at my son and put on this amazing art routine performance with empty trash cans; it was magic.
I’ll also never forget the day we pulled up at a red light next to a garbage truck and I heard this from my back seat, “Mama!! Garbage truck!! What’s that thing in his mouth?” Somehow my son had managed to be completely oblivious to cigarette smokers in the suburbs of Philadelphia, but put a stick in the mouth of one of his heroes and it was now time for a conversation. The spell of city workers had been broken and I started to dread seeing a police officer, firefighter, or sanitation worker while we were out and about. My son ADORES these professions and, by default, the people in them.
And it’s not just folks in uniform that my son’s noticing. It’s regular Joes and Janes — neighbors, people with kids, people without, and all of my fellow commuters. My son and your kids as well are paying attention to EVERYTHING happening in the cars and vehicles around them, and they’re paying attention to us, too.
For a journalism class in college, my mom created a PSA about a parent with a child who was avidly observing from the backseat everything the parent did. The child then started mirroring the same behavior and slowly morphed into a monster. The message being: Our children can easily become the worst versions of ourselves if that’s what they think we find acceptable.
And it’s not just littering or smoking that can send bad messages to children, but also aggression on the road. Obviously tailgating or speeding are incredibly dangerous, but what about honking?
I know. I KNOW. I get it. There is absolutely a time and a place for the honk. I mean we have it right there on our steering wheel for a reason. It will probably not surprise you when I say I’m a very reluctant honker. If I honk, it’s usually an auditory representation of, “OMG YOU ARE ABOUT TO KILL MY FAMILY!” I don’t honk to say, “Go!” or “The light has changed!” or “Hurry up!” or “I am frustrated!” or “You are making me so late!”
Here’s the deal: I’ve had a newborn asleep in my car before and driven just below the speed limit praying no one would honk at us. I also drove my grandmother around for nearly seven years and honking was upsetting and startling for her. I can’t always tell who’s in the car ahead of me, so I’ll always assume there’s either a sleeping newborn or skittish grandmother.
Christine Salerno, a mom in Brooklyn, can relate. She’s asking drivers passing through her neighborhood to please refrain from honking at her daughter’s school bus every morning. Her 3-year-old daughter lives with Rett syndrome, a neurological disorder that comes with a list of challenging symptoms. One of the hurdles for Salerno’s daughter is her sensitivity to loud noises. When drivers begin honking at the bus, Salerno says her daughter doesn’t want to get in. “It’s a horrible way to leave my child every morning.”
I’m seriously aghast that drivers need to be asked not to honk at school buses, but I applaud how Salerno is using this as an opportunity to educate people about Rett syndrome. In a flyer she has been handing out to drivers, she says:
“Think before you honk … You will be on your way very shortly and my child will still be handicapped. You won’t remember later today that you honked at a school bus this morning, but it will stay with me all day.”
Well said. Inspired by Salerno and my years of carting around my son, I’ve created a driving manifesto of the things I wish drivers would stop doing in front of my kid. I’m well aware much of this will put me firmly in the “get off my lawn” level of manifesto-ing, but I’m cool with that. I have a 5-year-old, and I’m doing all I can to make sure he sees that acting impatiently, rudely, aggressively, or disrespectfully does not make you cool. Ever. I’d love it if you would join in my crusade.
8 Things I Wish Drivers Would Stop Doing in Front of My Kid
1. Please don’t throw trash out the window while driving
How about we also include at red lights, too. And while I know you’ll have things to send me about the biodegradability of the apple core you just lobbed out the freeway, I just need you to plant that core at your house. From freeway speeds, I can’t tell if you’re throwing fruit or junk mail, and my kid can’t either.
2. Please don’t lean on the horn during rush hour or traffic jams
Honking the horn might feel good. It might get some of that ARGH!!! feeling out of you in the moment, but OMG LOUD. Also, it’s not super effective in gridlock traffic. Imagine the car behind you has a kindergartner who has just asked, “Why won’t that vehicle stop honking?”
3. Please don’t flick your cigarette out of the car
I was very open with my son about the time in my life when I smoked. I told him about it because I didn’t want him ever to see a smoker as anything less than another human being on the planet. That being said, I REALLY hope he never smokes. It’s not my place to tell anyone else not to smoke, but here’s what I would appreciate: awareness. I know this is asking a lot, but if a smoker could just take a moment to see if a little kid is near before taking a drag, well that would be great. (And yeah, please don’t toss cigarettes out the window.)
4. Please don’t text at red lights next to us
I’ve given the “Texting is not safe in the car” speech so many times that now if my guy sees someone in another car doing it while driving, he freaks out a bit.
5. Please don’t have volatile phone conversations when you have the windows down
Sometimes the car is the place where angry conversations happen. I get it. May I plead with you to roll up your window if you feel like things are getting super heated? (And by “heated,” I mean if your language won’t work on network TV.)
6. Please don’t speed through my residential neighborhood (or anyone’s residential neighborhood)
7. Please don’t forget about crosswalks — people use them.
Just a friendly reminder to look at what is happening (or possibly walking) in front of you.
8. Please don’t use a parking lot as a race track
Here’s the deal: Sometimes kids let go of their parents’ hands in parking lots. IT SUCKS. It also really, really sucks when it happens and then a car zooms around hunting for a parking space. Grocery store parking lots, Target parking lots — if kids are there with their parents, assume that at some point a little person may run into the middle of the parking lot. Please be careful.