For no good reason I was thinking the other day that the thing I miss most about being a young child may be the feeling I had lying in the back seat of my parents car at night. I loved looking out the back window at the stars, or more often at passing streetlights or the occasional sign lit up in front of a gas station or diner. I would always try to figure out how close to home I was by counting traffic lights, or how many left and right turns we were making.
Those were the days when people (at least my family) weren’t as concerned with seatbelts. In fact, the seatbelts in the backseat of our family car had long since disappeared into the space between the seat and the back cushion, never to be seen again.
I always felt completely safe back there. When you’re young (if you’re lucky) your dad seems like the most capable man in the world and you feel like he is in control and can protect you from anything. I feel sorry for people who didn’t have that when they were children, and upon writing it just now, I realize why some of the people I know have serious problems stemming from their childhood, but it’s not the place for that now.
I felt so safe that I would often fall asleep on the drive home, although I think many small children experienced that regardless of the safety factor. Being tired accounted for a lot of it.
Sometimes we would be at the home of friends or relatives that had no children to play with and as the night dragged on I would become cranky and bored. When the moment came that I could finally crawl into the backseat, it felt as comfortable as my own bed.
Sometimes my parents would take me to a drive-in movie and I would go already wearing my pajamas. If I didn’t fall asleep by the end of the movie I definitely did on the ride home. It always seemed magical in the morning when I woke up in my own bed with no memory of how I got there.
True, it wasn’t always great in the backseat. Sometimes I would have to share it with my brother and that almost never went well. We would fidget and fight and get regular and ominous warnings about what would happen if we didn’t behave.
The worst was when we took a car trip from
to New Jersey in the early seventies. In the backseat with me were my brother and our big black lab Max. I have many fond memories of that trip, but hardly any of them occurred in the backseat. Arizona
One thing I did like was that we got rub-on decals for the windows for each state we went through. Even a year or two later when they were flaking and peeling off I still loved looking at them and trying to make out the state bird of
(the Bluebird) or the capital of Missouri ( New Mexico ). Santa Fe
A few years back I was dating a girl with a young son and he would ride in the backseat of my car (belted and strapped in of course!) and I had the chance to see it from my fathers perspective. He was as curious as I was looking at everything outside as it went past and talking non-stop about all of it. He had no fear either, and he used to love it whenever we were in a big empty parking lot because I would drive the car around and around in a tight circle, just shy of actually doing donuts. He always wanted to go faster and his face lit up with pure joy. I would look back at him and he would smile back and I felt like I was invincible.
I never had children and it doesn’t look like I will at this point in my life. Who knows what other “dad” moments I missed out on. I just know that I really enjoyed those drives knowing I was in the front seat and the kid in the backseat felt at least a little like I did when I was his age.
Maybe that’s the selfish joy of being a parent, reliving a part of your life when you felt happiest through your own child.
Maybe it’s not selfish at all.
© David Ferraris 2011