Thursday, January 10, 2008


I grew up in a generation in which we didn’t have car seats when we were infants or toddlers. Heck, we didn’t even wear seatbelts. I remember several trips in my grandma’s huge silver Buick where Jeff would sit in the front passenger seat, and I would ride on the arm rest in the middle. I think the big, white tank that my parents drove when I was little (a 1976 Chevrolet Caprice Classic) could have survived a collision with an oncoming rocket. OK, perhaps not, but I think young people today don’t have the slightest idea what a “big car” really is.

In the mid 80s, when Illinois passed its mandatory seatbelt laws, we gradually became accustomed to bucking up. I remember that it took quite awhile to get into the habit. I also remember that most people didn’t wear them to be safe - - just to avoid getting a ticket. As time has passed, it seems we have all become very accustomed to buckling up. I find that even if I am driving the two blocks from house to our church, I still instinctively reach over and click my seatbelt in place. What used to seem so unnatural and difficult to remember is now just a familiar habit that I don’t even think about - - driving without my seatbelt now is almost akin to leaving the house on a 5 degree January morning with no coat - - it makes you feel exposed and vulnerable. It even greatly upsets me now when I see kids in a car that aren't belted in.

My kids are definitely from the seat belt generation. The summer before last, the kids and I were at the mall on a very hot July day. As I helped them in the car and got the packages in, all I could think about was getting the car started so I could roll down the windows and turn the AC on. I helped Aleita into her seat and pulled her straps over her head and clicked her carseat buckle in place. I then put the packages in the hatch, got in myself, and backed out of my parking space. We were about halfway around the mall when Maggie suddenly let out a blood-curdling scream. I immediately asked what was wrong, and she replied to me in a scream: MY SEATBELT IS NOT FASTENED!!!!

We have so stressed the utmost importance of them sitting correctly in their seats and the significance of being buckled in, that I think she was quite certain that if the situation were not corrected immediately, that she was going to go hurtling from the car as a projectile at any moment. I pulled over into the mall parking lot and saw that, indeed, she was not buckled in. In my haste to get the air on and get going, I had forgot to check her belt. Maggie is very good now at doing her belt, but the seatsbelts in the backseat of my car are actually quite difficult to buckle, so at that time, I had to help her get fastened in place.

I hadn’t thought about that incident until a few days ago. Aleita and I had stopped by my parents’ house and were on our way back to Decatur when she let out a yell from the backseat. “MOMMY! HELP!,” she shouted, “CURIOUS GEORGE UNHOOKED MY SEATBELT!!” Aleita had a Curious George monkey stuffed toy that she had been playing with in the backseat, and when she reached for it down beside her seat, she accidentally unhooked her seatbelt from beside her booster. I pulled over to the side of the road and rehooked her belt. Aleita then stuck her thumb in her mouth and handed me Curious George. “Put him up there with you,” she said, “he’s a bad monkey.”

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