Buckle Up

God, I Hate Being The Car Ride Referee

It doesn’t matter if it’s a short ride to the store or across state lines — it’s all mayhem.

Two brothers play together in a car's back seat while their parents are in the roles of referees, tr...
Tara Moore/DigitalVision/Getty Images

I buckle my twenty-month-old into her carseat and immediately start refereeing the inevitable seating fight. Motivated only by their primal urge to win over one another, my nine, seven, and four-year-olds battle for the morning’s top seat. It’s not that there’s a specific seat that’s objectively better, either, or one they’re consistently obsessed with. The only requirement for said seat is that one of their siblings also desires it. Within seconds I am forced to raise my voice and physically assist in breaking up altercations and guiding them into their respective workable spots. And just like that, I am in a full sweat with a hoarse voice before I even buckle my own seatbelt.

And sadly, getting everyone in is just the beginning. Regardless of time or day, whether we are driving down the street or across state lines, my car is always and inevitably home to unmatched mayhem and madness. God, I hate the car.

The biggest issue is the sibling arguments. Being confined creates a perfectly suffocating and inescapable environment that amplifies every single annoyance one of them has with another. Just the breathing of my seven-year-old can send his older brother through the roof. And navigating the radio to please all four? It’s a bloodbath.

And then there is the baby — the one who is conveniently old enough to know that she is able to communicate but too young to actually converse. She spends the entire time from buckle-up to un-buckle repetitively chanting my name. And when I finally respond, instead of having a contribution or demand, she simply starts saying my name again. I honestly think that she says my name, on average seven thousand times in a single car ride. Thankfully, I carry Advil in my purse.

And I have tried a few different techniques to mitigate the insanity: multiple seating arrangements, car bingo, and story podcasts — all to no avail. Snacks can temporarily dull the chaos but then I am left with a backseat full of crumbs and curdled chocolate milk, typically found days later once the stench has built up enough for me to notice. Twenty questions is almost helpful, but after about ten questions or so they begin arguing over which questions have already been asked and whose turn it is. And there simply isn’t enough money, candy, or Pokemon cards in the universe to bribe them as often as I would need.

So at this point I have two choices. I can give up and keep family outings to a walking radius only or I can grit my teeth, practice deep breathing, and do my best to avoid traffic. And I enjoy our Target trips too much to go with choice number one. So I think I will work on setting firmer expectations before we get in the car. Maybe I will give them each a job while riding – something to keep them focussed and distract them from one another. But mostly, I will remind myself that this, like everything else, is just a phase.

That too soon they will be teenagers and driving themselves around. And someday I will be running errands in an empty vehicle — without the sound of bickering or the smell of week-old chicken nuggets — and I will miss the chaos. I will miss their fingerprints on the windows and the insistent and relentless “mommy”s from the backseat. I will miss the belly laughs between arguments and dance parties when a song hits just right. Because even in the loudest, most exhausting and frustrating moments is an acute awareness that I am lucky as hell to have a minivan full of my people. So I will embrace the mayhem, stock up on Advil, and try to enjoy the ride.

Samm is an ex-lawyer and mom of four who swears a lot. Find her on Instagram @sammbdavidson.