This Grounds for Insanity column was inspired by Suzanne Woods Fisher who saw the bumper sticker mentioned and kindly reported it to this author.
Before there were cell phones, there was still distracted driving. I thought of this recently when a friend told me about a bumper sticker she’d seen. “Driving under the influence of four sons,” it said, and she thought of me and shared it.
Any adult who’s procreated and takes their offspring, well, anywhere, knows the truth of this. If there are children behind your shoulder blades in a moving vehicle, there will be distractions. Period.
Back in the Paleozoic era when moving pictures were young and no seat belts were required, it was chaos. In the case of one local family, it meant five young children in a station wagon, the rear end of which hung over into the next zip code. Five children, unbuckled, unrestrained, milling around like a batch of hot worms. Two parents up front, banging their heads on the dashboard.
Okay. So I made that last part up, but I know The Five, so it could have happened.
Anyway. For my family, it meant three of us in the back of a custom-painted Ford Econoline the size of Reno County that had bench seats and a table. This gave us all kinds of room for rioting and rumbling.
Over in the station wagon, they had a ritual. The kids would act up, fighting about things like who sat behind Dad last time and who’d wiped a bugger on whom. You know—standard stuff. Then somebody’d throw a punch, sides would form, and you’d have a civil war.
And that’s where the dad came in. Hearing the uproar, he’d swipe one meaty arm through the seat in the back, thundering the warning that’s now become a family legend: “Now, it’s time . . .”
All at once, revival would fall in the second row, a full Pentecostal one, shades of Acts. Those kids would go from fightin’ to prayin’ in 0.7 seconds with requests ranging from full invisibility to, “Oh, Lord, please make me faster than my sister if Dad actually stops this car.” Or that’s what I was told by one of the “rioters turned pray-ers” who was there.
Meanwhile, in the green Econoline that covered half of Kansas, the kids in back were more relaxed. For one thing, when you’re in a vehicle that big, it takes awhile for the sound to travel to the front. So we—uh, those kids could stage a coup, fight the third world war and have the generals signing off by the time the folks found out.
Secondly, given the distance between the steering wheel and that table in the back, they were safe from the Paternal Swipe. Sensing a change in the climate, they could bolt from the seats behind the driver, taking up positions around the table when the swiping began. Thus, as their counterparts in the station wagon were crying out to the Lord in prayer, they were chuckling quietly in their huddle of three as the father’s arm swept back and forth, pendulum like, for limbs no longer there.
They were prepared, those creative kids. Should the driver’s blood pressure cause him to fulfill the threat of parents everywhere (“Don’t make me stop this car”), they were ready. They’d throw open those large back doors and hit the ground running. They could, they figured, be halfway to Wichita by the time he made it to the back. I’m not defending them, mind you. I’m just reporting their plans.
I’m reporting, too, that a pray-er from the station wagon married a chuckler from the Econoline, and together they made more distractions. Like four. Really big ones.
Odd, isn’t it, how life comes full circle? For early in their married life, they purchased a Corolla, which was roughly the size of a Rubik’s cube with a trunk that could hold a hot pad.
Unlike the station wagon or the Econoline, the entire back seat could be covered with one sweep. In fact, this dad could check the door locks, either side; wipe the fingerprints off the back windshield; and roll the windows up or down, all from his spot in the front. This was unfortunate for his kids-turned-contortionists who suddenly found themselves gifted with incredible powers of flexibility and would huddle there, legs flung over shoulders, little knees pressed up against their ears.
Oh, yes. There was plenty of distracted driving before those phones came out. There was distracted shopping, too, wherein the merest trip to the grocery store tested your endurance. Turn your back, and one of them would be three shelves up, tossing Cocoa Puffs down to a brother. That quick, your cart would be full of sugared cereal, and the crafty little doobers were already two aisles over. There, or off in the pants department, which left you desperately searching the forest of racks for any that had sprouted legs.
Just remembering this makes me woozy. It’s too much adrenaline for a forty-something, and I haven’t even covered clothes shopping with five males. Which is why I think I’ll distract myself with a trip to the spa. That, and a large mocha.