And, in the Backseat, You Will Receive Total Consciousness

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.

Not mine, but I do love that they secured it with a Club.

Not mine, but I do love that they secured it with a Club.

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.

image credit


About Mitchell Brown

I am a stay at home dad with my two daughters who are a lot stronger than they look. When I'm not cooking, cleaning, dancing, reading, teaching, playing or protecting my eyes and groin, I am writing about this whole experience in all of its ridiculousness.
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16 Responses to And, in the Backseat, You Will Receive Total Consciousness

  1. Love it! And been there… in fact, wrote this a couple years ago after this horrible, unidentifiable smell had developed in my truck from all the crap my kids would leave in there! I wish you the best of luck in keeping this momentum of cleanliness going. On my end, mine are now in middle and high school and not much has changed!

    • Thanks, Steve. In all honesty, I don’t have unrealistic expectations – they can trash a room they’re not even in, so maintaining a clean car is like graduate work at this point. Thanks for reminding me, though, that I have YEARS of this ahead of me.

  2. cartergaddis says:

    Skittles buried under a car seat for nine months begin to fade. Yet, the still taste great! (Don’t ask me how I know.)

  3. Carol Brown says:

    As a recent passenger in your backseat I am pleased to read about this momentous event and the resulting calm.I will anticipate my next visit and backseat-sharing, confident this cleanliness will last. It really does make a difference in your mood to be in a less cluttered environment, doesn’t it? Even one newly organized drawer can help. Let’s all clean something today!

    • Hey, at least we got the house clean before you came, right? And your confidence in your son’s and granddaughters’ abilities to maintain the clean car thing is admirable – and most likely misguided. I need perhaps a retiree to help us to stay on top of such things. Got anyone in mind?

  4. Mud Bailey says:

    Glad I checked in with you Mitchell. Always good for a big huge smile. Hugs from Virginia.

    • I’m glad you did, too, Mudly! Hugs right back atcha. Just last night I was showing Holly the satellite image of the Villas de MudHankSuze at Hawk Mo on your site. Soooooooo RAD!!! Congrats to you all, my friend. I’ve missed connecting with you.

      • Mud Bailey says:

        Soooooooooo when are you all coming to visit? The Strohecker’s have talked about it, as have the Taulbee’s… Perhaps a caravan road trip is in order for a summer camping extravaganza weekend at Hawk Mo? Sounds to me like that’d be pretty freakin’ epic

      • Meka says:

        Ooh ooh.. epic road caravan trip.. yes let’s get the band back together. Ugh…imagine our cars by the time we get there. So worth it!! Ahh this thought has made my day!

      • Duuude. A north-bound, kid-laden convoy to Hawk Mo would be out-friggin-tastic! I hereby call to order the planning committee.

      • Meka says:

        I second that motion!!!! Let’s the planning begin!

  5. Meka says:

    This is a daily struggle for me. Our gateway was books. It moved up a notch to legos. I swear by now i should have a good garden growing on the floor or at least a compost! I know for myself when things are cluttered my brain is cluttered. When the kids are out of control, 9 times out of 10, so is my house.

    The good news is that there is a 12 step program and discounts can be negotiated, or so i hear. The bad news the program takes about 18 yrs to complete. The program does have some fantastic coping mechanisms, so i hear.

    You are not alone brother. I walk this one with you.

  6. lisens says:

    Mitchell, You know I love your work so I nominated you for a Liebster Award. Check it out

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