The car is indeed one of the world’s greatest inventions. It transformed life as we knew it. Suddenly we could go further and faster than our feet, bicycles and horse and carts could carry us. It made the world smaller, more accessible and gave us untold freedom, ungoverned and untethered from the restrictive timetables of public transport. Cars are truly a wonderful addition and in many ways a fundamental part of modern living.
They are, however, the enemy of parents – or more specifically parents who find themselves alone in a moving vehicle with a baby or small child. Before you rush to point out that they are an excellent tool for getting tired babies to sleep, I certainly give you that. Many’s the time I’ve driven longer than I needed to to keep a sleeping baby purring blissfully away or timed a journey to coincide with a much-needed nap. In that sense, they serve a wonderful purpose.
But sweet mother of the divine, is there anything more torturous or upsetting than being trapped in a moving car or in a stationery car caught up in traffic with a screaming baby in the back while you’re strapped firmly in the front seat? I have lost count of the number of times I’ve been on the motorway with no way of stopping when the baby has lost his tiny mind with distress and I’ve had to drive on helpless while he cried and called out for me to soothe and calm him. He even vomited once which was truly awful. I actually had a pain in my heart when that happened.
On one occasion, when Pip was a couple of months old, I even found myself in an industrial estate in the dark, sitting in the backseat of the locked car trying to feed him back to sleep while shaking with fear and berating myself at my stupidity for pulling over in such a desolate place. But he was so terribly upset and I didn’t know what else to do. That didn’t even work and the second he was back in the car seat it started all over again and I arrived home covered in my own tears and snot, clutching him to my chest and apologising over and over again to him for being such a cruel mama. You really tie yourself up in knots about these things in the early days, don’t you?
His general dislike of cars seemed to disappear when the clocks changed in the Spring so the evenings were brighter and he could see me in his mirror, and once he was big enough to have a front facing seat. I was never so delighted than when my low level anxiety humming along with the car engine finally dissipated. I was only reminded of it last week when Pip was very upset in the car when we were stuck in traffic on the way to creche. It’s really very stressful and then of course the mega-guilts kicked in when I realised later that morning that he was sick.
There’s something about babies strapped in car seats that seems so counter-intuitive to me. Of course they’re an absolute necessity for health and safety reasons but they’re also just one more item of modern paraphernalia that seems to be a barrier to holding our children. When you’re driving and they’re crying but you can’t stop and all you want to do it reach back and scoop them up and heal their woes. There’s a lot to be said for public transport I think! But that has its disadvantages too. Thank God for lovely walks, slings and holding little hands…