It strikes me as odd that the federal government has yet to cite the dangers of driving-while-parenting—parenting twins in particular. Common sense, highway accident rates, and brain science have examined the lethalities of drinking and driving, texting while driving, and mobile phone use while driving—but somehow, the ever-more-dangerous hazards of driving while parenting somehow remains an unexamined lethal and psychological risk.
I, for one, can attest to the multiple times our car has evaded a full on collision due to the various complaints of my twins, starting in babyhood and escalating each year as their arm spans grew longer, their legs became longer, their tongues expanded their vocabularies, and their lung power increased.
Not only have we very nearly murdered old women, taken the rails off of bridges or narrowly missed flying off cliffs, but I’ve suffered blood pressure elevation, early deafness, toxic car conditions, loss of verbal control, and post-traumatic-tantrum-disorder as a result of the multiple near-death experiences I’ve been subjected to while trapped in our small moving prison cell going at 70-something miles an hour.
It’s extraordinary the number of times I’ve avoided a head-on collision while hurtling along freeways attempting to soothe crying infants, toddlers, and now tweens. It all began with the body twisting act of trying to stick fingers (instead of pacifiers) into the wailing mouths of newborns from the nether reaches of the front seat to the rear-facing baby seats, purposefully molded to make access impossible to all except a circus contortionist.
I’ve done puppet shows with one hand across the dashboard. I’ve worked through my entire repertoire of musical numbers from Oklahoma to Hair, told award-winning stories educational and funny enough to win literary prizes. If only they offered such prizes to writer-mothers trapped in cars with nothing more than a sea of traffic, screaming children, and their wits! The prizes I might have won!
I’ve sliced apples at stop signs, opened snack bags with two fingers, and passed dried apricots into open mouths. I’ve stopped fist fights while swerving across three lanes of traffic and I’ve nearly been concussed as a result of a stainless steel eco-friendly water bottles being launched at my head by a raging five-year-old. I’ve had my hair pulled, pieces of gum spit upon me, and I’ve been vomited on more times than I could count. My sons have double-handedly taken a freshly-cleaned car and redecorated it with peanut butter and cheddar bunnies in near-Olympic-record-breaking time. I have a whole new perspective on why cab drivers and bus drivers are so deranged and often downright hostile—they must establish who’s in charge before things get out of hand.
Don’t get me wrong; our car rides aren’t always this atrocious. At least 25 percent of the time no one is choked, spit upon or insulted while driving.
Every time I am sure that the last apricot passed between the seats at 60 miles per hour will bring us all to our sure death and destruction, the rocking motion of the car sometimes lulls the kids to sleep. At least this was the case until the boys hit six.
Just when I thought that I would not be able to take it any longer, silence falls, their little heads would drop against their chests, and I would adjust my mirror to better note the sweet innocence of those faces and I was reminded of why I gave up weekends in Paris and sex in dark alleyways.
Many parents these days rely on technology to silence their children while driving. While I understand their natural inclination, I refuse to cave to this societal trend. To the mini-van driving parents with their little mini-TV screens I say, have you ever tried to speak to a kid who’s watching TV, playing with their video game or glued to a device of any kind? Their conversational skills are often less than stellar, and I have been so determined to not build on technological addiction in my kids, that I’ve suffered the agony of swallowing fire rather than cave to this crutch— although there have been days when I questioned the sanity of my decision.
My own memories of car rides are nostalgic. Either I don’t remember the suffering I imposed upon my mother or I never whined, bickered, nose-picked or vomited in the car. I recall my mother leading us in sing-a-longs of all of her favorite country songs about drunk men, abandoned women, and heartache. In addition, there were musical renditions from Patsy Klein and Bob Dylan to Chorus Line’s “Tits and Ass.” My older sister always outwitting me when we played Twenty Questions, or “In My Suitcase I Pack an Apple, a Banana and a Cookie.” If I had had a DVD player in front of me for all of the car rides of my youth, it’s possible I might have missed my mother at her most relaxed, attentive, and playful. Certainly, I’d never have learned all those useful curse words so early. I would also never have noticed the changing colors of the leaves illuminating the woods and foreshadowing the changing seasons.
Sometimes we drive to school listening to the boys’ new favorite band Queen. Freddy Mercury croons, “Maaaaaama, just killed a man.” Sometimes I worry about the dark messages in these lyrics. Am I corrupting my children? But the three of us are all singing. It’s just rubber on the road, music on the radio, and sun bouncing off the orange cables on the bridge. For a few minutes, we are all in agreement.
This post is part of a series of essays by the contributors to our second anthology, Multiples Illuminated: Life with Twins and Triplets, the Toddler to Twin Years. Subscribe to get new posts on your favorite reader as and when they’re published.
Pamela Alma Weymouth is a freelance writer, who teaches creative non-fiction and humor writing. She earned her MFA in creative writing at University of San Francisco, after attempting to become a teacher, a social worker, an actress, and a flamenco dancer. She lives in Mill Valley with her twin boys, four hens, two mutts, and an epic amount of mud, footprints, dog hair and detritus. Find her on her website, Facebook, and Twitter.