D – 19 (Cars, front seats, and airbags)

I thought a lot about this one, whether I wanted to keep the tone light, or round out some of the experiences we’ve had raising a child on the autism spectrum (high functioning though she may be). I wasn’t looking for a fond, proud, or pleasant moment. I was thinking about throwing in one that represented the opposite of all those things.

I finally decided on a compromise. In a way, I’ll leave it to you to decide. I’m posting a lighter post first (re: the name of this post). Afterwards, I’m including a post called “Venom,” which I’d originally intended to post this morning. If you’re not in the mood for a darker turn, please don’t feel like you have to keep reading.

“Cars, front seats, and airbags”
Originally posted: May 5, 2003, Beth’s age: 5

You might have heard that we were having trouble with Cheryl’s lemon Saturn.
When Cheryl’s car goes caput, I go to my parent’s house for a loaner. This last time the loaner was none other than THE MR-2. A little two door, mid-engine, sports car made by Toyota. My dad has a fun little manual five speed.

The next morning I realized an opportunity for some daughter-father bonding, so I suggested to Cheryl that I could take the kid to school. Since I’m the one that usually drives the loaner, this meant I’d be taking Beth to school in THE MR-2.

Beth and I walked out the door. Beth went first and walked up beside THE CIVIC. I took the route less traveled, and went to unlock THE MR-2. Beth exclaimed, “are we going in grandpa’s car daddy?!?”

“Yep,” I feigned casual.

Beth ran up to the passenger side of THE MR-2 and cautioned, “daddy, grandpa’s car doesn’t have a back seat and I’m not supposed to ride in the front.”

What’s a father supposed to say to that? I try to explain things to Beth when she asks, even if it won’t be entirely understood. I said, “well Beth, most cars have an airbag that pops out when you get into an accident, but it’s only in the front seat. Airbags can be dangerous for little kids because kids are really little, and airbags are really big and really fast. But, grandpa’s car doesn’t have airbags, so it’s not like our cars, and in some ways it’s a little safer for kids in the front seat.”

Beth wasn’t just o.k. with this explanation, she reveled in it. During the five minute drive to school, my normally talkative child uttered just one sentence:

“Daddy, this is REALLY cool!”

She sat in that seat like a queen on her throne, looking all around, unaccustomed to the unobstructed view.

Now fast forward to yesterday. We finally decided to send Cheryl’s lemon Saturn down the river. It was well past time we took a do-over, so we bought a car. (Yes, we bought; but that’s another story.) Cheryl and I left work early, but the deal still wasn’t done when it came time to pick up Beth. Since we were close, I left to get Beth and brought her back to the dealership. I brought her up to speed on the way back, and she was eager to get a close look at mommy’s new car. We went inside and walked up to the equivalent model in the showroom. Beth walked around to the passenger side, opened the front door and climbed in. She turned to me and asked in an innocent and hopeful tone: “daddy, does this car have airbags?”

Is it better to have loved and lost, than to never have loved at all?

Ask Beth.

– – –


Originally posted: Jun 17, 2003, Beth’s age: 5 (almost 6)

Camera number one shows the layout of the scene. It’s a retirement party. Everyone is saying goodbye to a Department of Corrections cohort. We are outdoors, in someone’s front yard. I am between conversations, observing the crowd from a lawn chair in the middle of the yard. Beth is walking around aimlessly, but not being disruptive. She is the only child at the party. Cameral number two (from a low angle) focuses on two women in the distance, from my seated perspective ten feet away. There are other conversations going on all around us, but the sound picks up the women’s conversation – already in progress. “…that child, her parents can keep her.” Flash to camera number three (no transition), close-up on my face; my eyebrows arch with interest. Flash to camera number two. The women resume their conversation, the previous speaker elaborates on her last statement, “I share an office with her mother. I KNOW things.” Now flash back to camera number three. There is a subtle change in my expression. Something has changed in my demeanor. There is a look of suppressed emotion on my face.

A narrator speaks:
“I KNOW that I am angry.”
“I KNOW that I have just heard part of this conversation out of context, so I must stay cool.”
“I KNOW that my mind is rushing to conclusions anyway.”
“I KNOW that people come as a package. You take some bad with the good. There are parts of my daughter’s package that I could do without, but I wouldn’t trade the whole for anything in the world.”
“I KNOW that I just spent an afternoon with my daughter that was just precious, one of too many to count.”
“I KNOW that everyone has their faults. The trick is to know what they are, and keep them in check.”
“I KNOW I have them.”
“Do YOU?”

Give the gift of words.