Riding shotgun

I jump in the car, accompanied by my usual stuff  — purse, Greater Grafton camera — and go to throw it all, as usual, on the front passenger seat.

“Ow! Mom!”

Oh. Right. My son’s riding shotgun.

Call it a side effect of the Grafton Citizens Police Academy.  An early class was on traffic safety and amid the questions about seat belts and car seats was the question: when is a child legally allowed to ride in the front seat? There isn’t a law on the books but it’s generally recommended that you wait until the child is about 11, tall enough to avoid decapitation by air bag in a crash.

I mentioned this in passing and my son seized on it. Finally, he would be free of the back seat. Finally, he could assert some kind of control over the radio. Finally, he wouldn’t have to sit next to his little sister.

And finally, he would have to carry my purse.

“Hey! That’s my lap!”

Here’s the problem — I’m used to having that passenger seat available, the better to grab the Greater Grafton camera at a moment’s notice to snap a gorilla in a tree or a lounging llama. I need my reporter’s notebook and pen in reach to jot a quick note at a stop sign. I need the space in front of the seat to stash my umbrella and spare shoes, because if you haven’t noticed, it’s raining and sometimes my cute shoes don’t cut it if I have to slog through mud.

What’s this kid doing in my storage seat? Why is he programming my iPod to play a straight list of Van Halen on the car stereo rather than my preferred shuffle mix? Did he just put my beloved camera on the floor?

My parents will tell you this was never an issue for them. No, we were always able to go in the front seat and we didn’t need a sissy seat belt to keep us safe. We had the iron arm of Mom to prevent us from smashing headfirst into the dashboard (no decapitating air bags for us!) when she had to break hard.

Oh, and apparently, that’s a maternal reflex.

“Ow! Mom! That’s what the seat belt is for!”

Sorry kiddo. Riding shotgun comes with baggage.

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