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Parenting Imperfect

November 13, 2010

New car's features give kids something else to bicker about

My husband and I gave in to the inevitable and bought a new (to us) car.

Our much beloved 13-year-old Saturn finally succumbed to the numberless blights of advancing age. Some days, it wouldn't start unless you held the gear shift just so. One door was held shut by bolts and twine. And, no, this is not an exaggeration. And, interestingly, it still passed inspection despite the inelegant fix.

The brakes, however, wouldn't have. Rather than sink even more money into a vehicle that was dying the slow death of a thousand small breakdowns that were adding up each month to a couple of car payments on something new, we gave up.

The Saturn is dead; long live the Saturn.

We are well aware how fortunate we are to be able to buy a new (to us) car in these bleak economic times. This is not a column all about how great it is to have a vehicle that we can trust to make it to the grocery and back.

Because while it is great to drive something that isn't held together with duct tape and Gorilla Glue, there have been unintended consequences.

The first was easily solved. The Boy, in a fit of irritation at being forced to go to Home Depot with me, opened his backseat passenger side door just as I was pulling out of our driveway.

Horrified doesn't even begin to describe my reaction. I still need to apologize to the neighbors for all of the screaming.

With the old car, only one back door functioned in any useful way. Even then, it didn't open willingly, so the Boy wasn't able to fling it open with any speed or, really, at all.

But with the new (to us) car, all of the doors work. And smoothly, at that. Technology has advanced, however, and there is a cunning lever that I can flip that makes the Boy's door impossible to open from inside the car. While I have trapped a few adults back there, the Boy remains in one piece, which is a win.

The second problem, however, doesn't have an easy solution. The backseat comes with an armrest.

Those of you who have siblings you were forced to ride in the backseat with are already nodding knowingly. Since I have no siblings, I had no idea how much a simple armrest can ruin a perfectly good drive.

Immediately upon entering the car, one kid will put the armrest down. Thud. The other will then immediately put it back up. Thud. The first kid will then put it back down. Thud. Then the other puts it back up. Thud. Lather, rinse, repeat. Thud.

If that were all, I'd be able to handle it. It pains me to hear the thudding coming from the new car, because it simply can't be good for it, but I can cope. It never stops there.

"Stoooooooop Iiiiiiiit," one will whine. It doesn't matter which one. Both are guilty.

"Then LEAVE it UP," the other whines back, unless, of course, the other whines, "Then LEAVE it DOWN." Either is likely.

"But I want it UP." (or DOWN.)

"I want it DOWN." (or UP.)

"OW! Moooooooom!"

"Leave it," I'll holler from the front as I try to not let myself be distracted from the task of driving while my kids argue in the back. "Do not touch it anymore. If it's up, leave it up. If it's down, leave it down."

Thud.

"Stop. Touching. It."

"He did it!"

"I did not. She did."

"I don't care who did it," I say, repeating the mantra of parents everywhere. "Just stop touching it."

Thud.

"Seriously? You want to push me on this?"

Thud.

"You are both going to your rooms when we get home!"

"But he started it!"

"I did not!"

"Did so."

"Did not."

"Liar!"

"Mooooom! She called me a liar!"

It's enough to make you just pull over, hop out and walk away. I know the Boy would be trapped until I came back but I can't make the same promise about his sister. She can open her door from the inside of the car.

My sister-in-law, who had the privilege of listening to her niece and nephew screech over an armrest the other day, suggest we just remove it until they are old enough to handle this intriguing new backseat fixture.

She has a point. I may have to call the dealership.

However I'm not sure it would help. Just the other day, one of them complained that the other was breathing too loudly. Then the other retaliated by saying that the other looks funny. If they can see, hear, smell or touch each other, they'll find something to bicker about. Which makes me long for a new new car that seals each kid in his or her own personal plastic bubble immediately upon entering the vehicle.

Get on it, Detroit. That might be what turns your industry around.

Adrienne Martini is a freelance writer, instructor at the State University College at Oneonta, mom to Maddy and Cory, wife to Scott, and author of "Sweater Quest," which was published in March. Her columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/parentingimperfect.

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