This parenting gig is about as predictable as a speed dating event sponsored by Ambien and Wild Turkey.
But, there are a few guarantees. You will say things that you would never think would come out of your mouth. Your children will do things that you could never imagine a functioning primate would ever do. You will at some point decide you are too tired to change the channel or your underwear. The first three rows will get wet.
And the inside of your car will, at least at times, look like a garbage truck collided with a toy store built over a toxic waste dump.
Count on it.
Being the primary shuttle for my daughters, my car has found itself polluted more than a couple of times. I’m never sure how it happens, exactly. When my car has been clean in the past it usually starts with some doll joining us on a ride to the store. From there, it all rolls downhill. On the next trip maybe a coloring book is brought along. Perhaps a little jewelry for another. An afternoon with multiple stops may find a snack box, a couple more books and a microphone added to the mix. Once the 17 pieces of art per kid per day from school are thrown on top, my car starts to look like an episode of Hoarders.
Of course, nobody (including me, I must admit) would ever think to take back into the house that which was shoveled into the car on any given day. That would be too easy. I’m not sure that trashing my car hasn’t become an addiction for my girls on par with obsessive/compulsive disorder. I think I may need to look a little bit more closely at the possibility that those first dolls are some sort of vehicular accompaniment gateway drug.
I’m considering an intervention. Maybe one for me, too. I wonder if they have group rates for those things.
A few days ago, when I was having trouble seeing out of the windshield from behind a small mountain of doll clothes, rice puffs and crafty detritus glued to construction paper, I thought perhaps it was time to clean the car out. The girls and I dragged two laundry baskets, a trash can and a recycling bin out to the driveway, affixed spelunking lights to haz-mat suits and went to work.
They got into it. Stuff was flying out faster than I could organize it into the proper receptacle and from inside the car I could hear shouts of discovery and, occasionally, pain. They worked hard, but lost interest a bit before we could actually see the floor boards. I picked up the slack and, by the time the car was empty, we had nearly filled all 4 containers (a feat made more impressive – and difficult to admit – when you consider the trash can was one of those 32 gallon jobs from the hardware store). I broke out the Shop Vac (don’t tell me I’m not suburban) and pulled up enough sand to start our own Bedouin off-shoot tribe. A rag and some industrial, though environmentally friendly, cleaner (also, don’t tell me I’m not conscientiously suburban) and the ol’ car had an inner sparkle that she hasn’t seen since the car seats were facing backwards.
I’m not gonna lie – it felt good getting a sense of order back into the car. It also felt good as a few mysteries that have been plaguing us for some time found resolution, such as “How is it that we have 12 single, unmatched shoes in the shoe bins?”
The next day, Bug and I loaded into my revitalized chariot to run out together and in the air hung this uncharacteristic silence for the first several minutes. Finally, she said “I like riding in your car when it’s clean, Daddy. I can just sit here without thinking about anything.”
Taken at face value, it might seem a little off putting that she went blank slate on me like that. Once I was convinced, though, that all the right cylinders were still firing in my little girl’s noggin, it occurred to me just how cool and powerful that statement really was.
My car was so clean the damn thing had actually become meditative. The clear mind that I covet and actively work towards she achieved by being strapped into a newly vacuumed Jeep. The simple act of removing half their toys, 17,648 hair clips, three quarters of a pound of cashews, 112 books and a ream of paper (and that was just from the floor of one side of the backseat) provided her the distraction free environment that enabled a deeply quiet moment. And this is not a little person who permits a whole lot of deeply quiet moments, I assure you.
In the days since, the trend has continued – and spread to her sister. I even checked the rearview mirror twice on the drive to school today just to make sure they were still in the car. The calm that has been injected into our car rides has been startling. I think I can now safely add to the list of parenthood guarantees: “Silence will become a cause for concern when maintained too long without the assurance that one or both of your kids are trying to get away with something.”
We all have loved the effect the peaceful cleanliness has had on us and we will be continuing to try a little harder to keep the car neat. It won’t be as easy as it sounds, though, as it took the three of us two trips to get all of the masterpieces they made at school just yesterday.
It’s been a good lesson and one I have been learning during an ongoing effort to minimize the stuff that we surround ourselves with inside the house, too: A lack of clutter begets clarity and clarity begets peace. Now, if I can just keep a tight rein on the gateway dolls.