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I have a 10 month old nephew.  My sister-in-law, his other aunt, is very protective of him.  She fairly has a heart attack every time he eats solid food.  She obsesses over his every bowel movement.  She roves the internet in search of UV protective clothing and the Consumer Reports #1 rated sunblock, SPF 450, for Baby’s First Shore Trip, but then refuses to allow him in the sun once they arrive at the beach house.  She goes into palpitations when his mother doesn’t pull down the sunshade on his stroller, or when he looks hot, or cold, or clammy, or his Pack ‘n Play doesn’t have a fitted sheet.  She is consumed with worry in exactly the way any first-time mother ought to be.  Except it isn’t her kid.  She doesn’t have any children, and, being single at age 42, isn’t likely to come into any in the short- or long-term.  So he’s her Substitute First Child, the one all the parents (and maiden aunts) worry themselves sick over.

Erma Bombeck famously penned in one of her columns, that when First Child swallowed a quarter, she bolted straight for the emergency room.  By the time Third Child rolled around, she just deducted it from his allowance. 

As calm and relaxed as I am now about children, as much as I know about child development to assure myself children come with many safety features, and as silly as I judge my sister-in-law’s fussing to be, I know I’ll worry over my First Child, too.  I know Mr. Apron will wake in the middle of the night just to make sure it’s breathing.  He’ll take its pulse, I know he will.  I know I’ll blanch at the sight of abnormal poo. I’ll become preoccupied with its feeding cycle.  He’ll worry about its dental development and toenail health. 

But all these worries are on a scale of worries.  They all compare in magnitudes of greatness to real things to worry about.  As my Israeli father-in-law says, “It’s all compared to what!”  To fears of real child endangerment and neglect.  My mother-in-law won’t allow my nephew to fall asleep with a bottle in his mouth.  Not that she would ever dream of putting him into his crib with a bottle; she won’t even give him a bottle to help him fall asleep, for fear it would instantaneously cause bottle rot in his precious milk teeth the second he closed his eyes. 

Today, though, I saw a sight that puts everything in perspective, a sight that fairly caused me palpitations.  As I waited outside a daycare for my victim child to arrive with his brood of siblings so I could spend a futile hour working on a tongue thrust that, in a 5 ½ year old, is going to require more than bi-weekly speech therapy, I saw a mid-1990s 4-door Honda Accord pull up – a father dropping his kids off.  From my vantage point, I saw a small head in the front passenger seat.  As Dad got out, the picture became clearer; I saw two small heads, side-by-side in the front seat.  Two children young enough for day care, seated in the front seat of a car, not even buckled into the one seat they were sharing.  And as they piled out, Dad walked around to the rear door.  As he opened it, he made a motion to hold his arms out as if waiting for a large beach ball to come his way, and the smallest child yet climbed happily into his arms.  Alive, and yet, I was scarred.  The kid was walking, yet couldn’t be older than 18 months.  Couldn’t have unfastened any sort of car seat I’ve ever seen.  Minutes later, as I walked to the door of the day care, I glanced at the rear seat of this vehicle.   What I saw would have curdled the blood of my sister-in-law.  She would have locked herself in her condo, curled up on the floor in a fetal position, and started rocking.  Filling the back seat was an assortment of laundry, towels, and pillows. 

That was all. 

Mr. Apron says he would have narc’ed on the guy.  I see any number of kids come to the center where I work strapped into front seats, arriving without car seats, piled into back seats with 5 others.  I hope I haven’t become desensitized to the dangers of automotive child endangerment.  If public service announcements, stricter laws, and “Don’t be a dummy” ads haven’t taught people, they won’t learn until they see their own precious kids flying out the windshield.

That’ s the scariest image of all.

The straps on a bike helmet.  If you’re going to ride down the street already looking like a dork for wearing a helmet in the first place, you might as well help the helmet do its job by buckling.  Otherwise, the message you’re sending your brain is, “I get the last laugh! I’ll comply with my state law/parents’ directions, but I’ll find a way to endanger my brain anyway.”  No, pal, the organ donor organization in your state gets the last laugh, and your kidneys, too.

Seat belts in a car.  My car beeps when I unbuckle to parallel park, a move necessitating more flexibility in a person of my stature than a buckled belt allows.  Ever wonder, folks, why they have all those chimes and idiot lights?  Ever wonder about those geniuses who think to buckle the belt behind themselves to try to outsmart the alarms off? I think they’re lining up for the Darwin awards.  Airbags can only save your life if you’re in the proper position to receive their high-speed pillowy dusty goodness.  

Wow.  I only have two examples.  Weak blog, weak.  I’m sure there are more witty things I could think of, but not under such pressure as the blinking cursor and expectant “publish” button demands.  Till next time then.

My car is an Inferno Red ™ PT Cruiser Limited, one of the first off the lot in 2001.  I’ve had it since it was almost new (my mother having driven it before me), and I’ve driven most of the 73,000 miles on the odometer.  So why, after 8 years of ownership, 7 years of steady driving, has it suddenly become so very uncomfortable to drive?  It’s gotten to the point that Mr. Apron and I switched cars back in the fall, and I haven’t looked back.  Until today.  He had the other car (a sedate, boring, black Ford Focus) to check my paranoia about the brakes, and I took Clementine back for the day.  We’re a lucky two-car family in that way.  Mr. Apron takes whatever car in for an oil change and walks to work, while I take the other car.  Clementine and I did not have  pleasant reunion. 

The driving position is very upright, a fact Mr. Apron enjoys, but which creates problems for me.  I prefer a more slung-back racing position, not so low as the gangstas giving themselves chronic neck issues, but low enough that I can actually touch my heel to the floor of the car.  I can technically do this in the cruiser, but with the pedals dangling in mid-air, I cannot simultaneously keep the heel of my size 7’s on the floormat and my toe on the pedal to operate either the brake or the gas, unless I’m wearing 3 inch platforms.  Thank goodness there’s not a clutch to add to this equation.  All of which leads to discomfort.  In my hamstring.  It’s similar to that feeling skiiers get when they’re on a super long hi-speed chair lift which suddenly stops in mid air.  Those dangling legs, weighted down with 170 cms (well, 150cm in my case) of fiberglass, chunky boots, and everyone knows those footrests are just for show, especially when you’re sharing a lift with weird foreigners who monopolize the rests or don’t know about American safety conventions like lowering the dear-God-keep-me-in-this-lift bar.  In my case, only the weight of my leg is dangling, but I’m using force to stop my car when the whack-job in the “oy  ta” has no brake lights and I have to stop short, or when I’m gunning poor, underpowered Clementine to please, please accelerate so I don’t get squished by the tractor-trailer.  It has the same effect.  So, what?  Now I have to do stretches to prepare my hamstrings for driving?

Compound the throbbing leg muscles with the seatbelt issues and my ever-lengthening commute, and you’ve got a recipe for a roadside show, if you’re lucky enough to pass me on the road.  Here’s what you’ll see: constant pulling, tugging, adjusting of the seatbelt.  The ratcheting effect (self-tightening, whatever you call it) might be useful for stopping my body from flying out of the car in an accident, but in normal driving, its constant tightening pushes, squishes, constricts around my belly to no end.  I keep thinking of the airline safety announcement that your seatbelt is supposed to lie “flat across your hips and lap”.  Well, airline belts don’t ratchet.  Car seatbelts do, and they end up around my belly every single time, no matter how much I shove them down.  It’s no wonder my poor sister ended up with a seatbelt injury to her small intestine when she was in a car accident last summer; they just don’t stay where they’re supposed to.  So I do something bad.  Not so bad as not wearing the belt, or shoving the shoulderbelt behind my seat, like I did as a child, but still bad.  I take out enough slack on the seatbelt to restrain the average American, and wrap the extra around the armrest, thus abating the racheting somewhat.  But then, of course, with the belt hitting a different and higher vertex (it’s the right word; leave me alone), the hypotenuse of the shoulder belt (I tutor geometry; get used to it) has a higher slope, and, instead of gliding over my shoulder, as it should, is now slicing into my neck.  Even with the adjustable belt thingy on the B-pillar (DH is car nerd).  This thing that is supposed to keep me safe is going to a) decapitate me and/or b) slice up my belly in case of accident, God forbid. 

And the commute.  New traffic “patterens”, the signs warn, as they close down 1/3 lanes on a major artery around here.  My superiors, whom I am nudging for a transfer to a closer center, keep insisting I travel “against traffic flow”, since I head out of the city in the morning, and towards the city in the afternoon.  Let me tell you, fighting my way up or down that stupid road with construction with no end in sight in any time of day, is never against traffic.  Mornings are about 45 minutes; afternoons can be an hour or more, depending on weather, stupid pedestrians who try to cross an expressway against the light, broken-down cars, firefighters/Penn State co-eds collecting money/offering car washes at red lights, or sun glare delays.  My estimated commute to the other center: 25 minutes, morning or afternoon.  That drive, which, ironically, is into the city in the morning, and back to the suburbs in the afternoon, has no traffic because I can use back roads.  My current drive, spanning several neighborhoods, an interstate, and a river, cannot be done with backroads unless I want to double my commute.  Again. 

And all of this in a car which has somehow turned on me.  Poor, poor Clementine.  I cheat on you.  I drive a boring car so I don’t have to feel pain when we’re together.  I lust after a Honda Fit, which must be more comfortable to drive.  What have you ever done to deserve this, except for the month where you got 3 flat tires?  I’m sorry.  We need to be apart again for a time.  I’m not in a good place for a relationship right now.  It’s not you; it’s me.  I’m just not that into you.