Before having children, driving and parking and everything else that went with getting around by car used to be relatively simple. The most challenging aspects of car driving used to be forking out for car tax and avoiding speed cameras. However, add a couple of kids to the mix, and car-using is suddenly a lot more… complex.
I spend a lot of time in the car with my entourage, so I thought I would document some of the bonkers things that occur in the life of car travel with teeny-tiny passengers (and I’m not talking about the spiders in the wing mirrors).
The loss of all boot space to the buggy, and other essential items
A few months before the birth of our second child Fraser, we decided to upgrade our old car for a slightly newer, very slightly larger model. This was mainly because we realised that we would need some extra boot space to fit the double buggy into. Once Fraser was born, it soon became apparent that the only way we could fit our (relatively compact, lightweight) Maclaren twin techno into the boot was to remove all of the boot inserts. So we had to find space in our home for the parcel shelf and various other separating pieces from the boot, to make way for our huge buggy. As if this wasn’t bad enough, I then came to the conclusion that I needed to take the single Maclaren with us everywhere also, just in case our toddler Finley wanted to walk. And then Finley was given a scooter for his birthday, so the scooter was added to the boot party. So these days, where we should have a huge boot to pack our immense grocery shopping into, I drive around with a brim-full boot of two buggies, a balance bike, a scooter, wellies, picnic blankets and a helmet.
The perpetual filth
We travel in the car almost daily. We’ve already established that the boot contains most of the stuff we own. So what comes with us in the rest of the car? A heck of a lot of litter. Takeaway cups of coffee, snacks for the kids, receipts, tissues for snotty little noses and all of the gunge that comes attached to the lot of it… It all gets used and hurriedly dumped in convenient cup holders or door storage. It is then suitably forgotten about, as I have a million other things that I can think of doing in the rare free-time I get, than to be collecting all of the filth into bin bags. I have become fairly blind to the fact that the car is a mobile dustbin, through being fairly distracted during most journeys with things I may have forgotten, things I need to do, and things I’d like to do which I won’t have the time to do. It is only on the weekends when Ian accompanies us on our family voyages that he kindly points out how ‘disgraceful’ the state of the car is. Thankfully he sometimes collects all of that rubbish up for me.
The challenge of parking
And no, I don’t mean the decreasing ability to parallel park a car once you’ve had children, although strangely, this does actually apply to me. No, what I’m talking about is the issue of finding a parking space wide enough to allow you to remove your children from their car seats on one or both sides of the car, and then replace them once you have completed your trip out. You see, there is a reason that supermarkets and multi-storey car parks allocate ‘parent and child’ parking spaces; it is because it is almost impossible to get young children in and out of cars in normal spaces. You just need a lot of room on either side of the car. However, I am not alone in noticing that most of these car parks have a significant deficit in parent-child parking spaces. So if you make the crazy decision to go to the shops during normal waking hours, you have to spend an excessive period of time circling the parent-child parking area, waiting to swoop in on a space that is being vacated (while your increasingly ratty children become intolerable before you’ve set foot in the shop). One of my friends recently pointed out that the parent-child spaces don’t need to be in such close proximity to the shop. We’re not disabled, we just need wide parking spaces. Why don’t they put more parent-child spots on the outer extremities of the car park? I agree with her. Indeed, I recently attempted to park my car in the outer extremities of the local Sainsbury’s car park, after circling the parent-child parking area for an extended period of time. However, upon reaching the outer extremities of said car park, I realised that there are no longer trolley parks way out there, and the trolley parks that were present were devoid of trolleys. So, I would have had to leave the kids in the car while I trekked for miles across the car park, back to the outside of Sainsbury’s to find a trolley. Suffice to say, I abandoned that trip to Sainsbury’s and headed straight to Tesco, where I did find a suitable spot very quickly.
The onset of motion sickness
Motion sickness is an old friend of mine. Since I can remember, I can recall being whisked out of the car, covered in my own stomach sludge, or being rapidly removed from the car and having my mouth directed towards the gutter. Indeed, all through my life, I have suffered with motion sickness, be it in cars, buses, boats, and very occasionally on trains. Well, I did used to frequently travel on Pendolinos. And upon meeting my husband, it became very apparent that he also has a long history of similar nausea. So although I was a little taken aback when it happened recently to my two-year old, it wasn’t massively surprising. We were around the corner from my parent’s house when Finley piped up with, “mummy, I’m very hot”. Bearing in mind that this is highly unusual for my frequently chilly toddler.
“I’ll pop the window down then, honey”, I swiftly responded, whilst depressing the automatic window button.
“Mummy, I’m very cold!”
“But you were very hot a second ago”.
“Put the window up mummy!”
Cue writhing in the car seat and a strange noise from his throat. And I don’t need to describe the rest of it to you.
It isn’t the actual emesis that is the issue, it is the clearing up. It seems to seep into every nook and cranny, soaking further into the upholstery with every wipe. I don’t have spare car seat covers, so after a lot of scrubbing in situ, airing in the summer sun and application of baking soda, the car seat became relatively free of odour. However, in future I will certainly not be allowing any activity in the back of the car which makes him take his eyes off the road.
The huge oversight
My golden rule for purchasing cars has always been to buy a top-of-the-range car, even if it means buying from a less prestigious car manufacturer. I used to see people driving around in relatively large, prestigious German cars with tiny, low spec engines, and never really understood why. All that sacrifice for the sake of having a BMW badge on your bonnet. So when we upgraded our car last year, I broke all of my rules, and went with the manufacturer we wanted (not BMW), but a bottom-of-the-range model. We could have bought a French car and got a lot more engine, space and luxury for our bucks. But we didn’t. And with bottom-of-the-range cars comes a distinct lack of features inside the car. Included in those lack of features are the rear windows (that reads as though we have no windows, but stick with me). In our old car, all of the windows were electric, and could be controlled by the driver. However, the rear windows in our current car are the good, old-fashioned windy windows. I don’t think that was even on our radar at the time of purchase. We just needed more boot space for our double Maclaren, after all. So fast-forward a few months, and our elder son, two, can now wind his window down (but not up) with his foot. And he does this, without fail, as soon as he gets bored or cross on a journey. This is quite often. I’ve even caught him trying to fling things out of the window. I attempted to yank the lever off the door the other day, without success. I have a feeling that my husband will.
The baby on board signs
So this is one thing I’ve observed people having since I’ve been a driver, which is a very long time. I’ve never really understood the point of them. Are they to advertise that you have children? Are they to warn you to drive better when you’re behind a car with children inside? Are they simply a novelty that you can only have once you are a parent? Or, are they a way to sneakily park in the parent and child parking spaces when you’re not really a parent? I don’t know. Either way, I’ve never driven any differently around cars with those signs in the back, and have probably been more likely to scoff at the overt cuteness of the ‘little soldier’ or ‘little princess’ on board-ness of it all (gender stereotyping, anyone?).
I have heard that they are there to alert emergency services to the potential presence of children in the back of a car in the event of an accident. However, my perception of people who work in the emergency services is that they tend to be pretty intelligent, have eyes, and would probably think to check a car thoroughly for people, as opposed to looking out for a blue/pink/’cute’ sign in the window. Indeed, since having my own children, I’ve not once had the desire to stick one of those signs in my rear windscreen. The protruding wheels and handles of the numerous buggies from the boot and my two-year old chucking size 8 Wellington boots out of the window should be pretty big clues that I have ‘little princes’ on board.
Do you have any tales or observations of life in a car with little children? I’d be delighted to hear them.