Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Behind the Wheel

Teenagers get a lot of sass from insurance companies about being the worst drivers on the road. They gab on the phone. They text. They drink alcohol. Mostly they’re just way too excited and inexperienced.
They’re subsequently punished with high insurance rates and frequent stops from the authorities.
There’s probably a lot of truth to all that, but I’d argue there might be an equally menacing threat out there few notice: The 38-year-old suburban mom.
These moms are, by most accounts, boringly safe.
They make their kids were bike helmets, sunscreen, retainers.
But get them behind the wheel of an SUV in a McDonald’s drive-thru with a clutch of 7-year-old soccer players buckled up in back and watch out.
It all starts with French fries.
Mom pays for the promised treat with one hand while changing the CD with the other. She passes the fries back to the third row, head swiveled in the direction of the hungry second graders while warning them to use napkins, the SUV inching forward as her toddler thumps her back from an oversized car seat behind her.
The toddler requests—no, demands—Sesame Street’s “C is for Cookie.”
That’s track 5.
No, wait, track 9.
Oops, wrong CD.
Mom pulls out of the parking lot with two hands shuffling through the seat pocket in the opposite seat behind her, a feat Cirque du Soleil, acrobats would envy.
Boys launch French fries.
Sisters squeal.
There is a great unbuckling and swashbuckling.
Mom’s eyes are riveted on the shenanigans in the rear view mirror. She is making demands, thinking of punishments, wondering where she has gone wrong.
The toddler pelts a sippy cup into the front seat then, suddenly hysterical, requests a lovey from the passenger seat. The lovey slips between the cracks and Mom contorts herself to find it, sunglasses rocking from hair to neck obscuring her vision for an instant.
The cell phone rings.
It might be an emergency, Mom figures, so she picks up.
Soccer practice has been moved to another field across town.
Mom speeds up, makes an illegal u-turn, punches the gas.
The SUV lurches forward.
“I spilled my milk!” squeals a defender.
Mom opens the glove compartment—there is nothing worse than the smell of milk rotting on a triple-digit day—and pilfers a half-empty envelope of baby wipes, two crumpled tissues and a receipt from JCPenney to mop up the mess. She catapults it into the third row while making a left turn.
There is a loud discussion over whose turn it is to clean up the mess.
Mom thinks about the breakfast mess and the dinner mess before that and who it was that left a wet swimsuit undiscovered in a plastic bag for a week. She does not remember and is accused of not paying attention.
Singing breaks out.
The song is Lady Gaga.
Mom joins in because she is actually fun, darn it all.
The kids are singing, opening all the windows, waving at construction workers, at dogs whose tongues wag wet, at serious bikers whose Spanx make them giggle.
The toddler chimes in with “Wheels on the Bus.”
She is louder than all the second graders put together.
She throws up French fries and milk.
Mom prays silently that there are no library books on the floor of the car where the splayed vomit now seeps into the car’s carpet.
Mom roars into the soccer field parking lot, pitches the SUV into park and begins the rescue mission, second graders evacuating like fire ants put upon with poison.
I know all this because I am likely the 38-year-old suburban mom behind the wheel.
Watch for my SUV: I am more dangerous than a teenager.