On Car Seats And Crisis
By B.J. Hollars
In the days leading up to the big event, we received a letter from our sanitation service informing us that Bulk Item Pickup Day was just around the corner. My eyes widened at the news.
In my list of annual celebratory events, “Bulk Item Pickup Day” ranks high, second only to Christmas. And in some ways, it’s surpasses Christmas; rather than receive a bunch of garbage, we get to hurl a bit of it back..
Immediately, I take to the house to prioritize my junk. Which bulk item will I rid us of forever? I wonder. The half-broken bookshelf seems a logical choice, as does the ancient rocking chair. But moments later, as I make a sweep of the garage, my eyes fall upon another item, one I’ve long known would eventually end up on the curb.
It’s my children’s former car seat, a 2012 Graco something-or-other, complete with all the accouterment you’d expect of a 21st century “travel system”—straps, clips, harnesses, all of which, I assume, have Wi-Fi and Bluetooth capabilities I’d never quite mastered.
Frankly, I’m impressed I even mastered the buckles. After all, in the days leading up to my son’s birth—back when I was still practice-swaddling his stuffed animals and color coordinating his future bibs—I’d dedicated more than a little time working through the intricacies of that car seat. Yet my preparation hardly spared me from my recurring nightmare, one in which, upon leaving the hospital with our son in tow, I found myself baffled by the tangle of harnesses stretched before me, all of which constricted and elongated in the precise opposite manner I wanted them to. In my dream, it was the car seat equivalent of a Rubik’s cube, a contraption meant to make the user go mad.
Four years removed from the real-life version of that drive home, I find myself staring at the crumb-caked seat—reflecting on the miles logged, the trips endured, the many journeys we took together.
This was, after all, the seat that transported our son to Niagara Falls and our daughter to Duluth, the seat that carted them on endless loops to the library, the children’s museum, and the park.
How many holidays had our children sat strapped in their seat as we drove through the rain and the snow in our efforts to spend some time with our families? And when, I wonder, did we use this seat for the last time?
As best as I recall, that seat has been gathering dust for months, the result of a car seat upgrade for my son, which in turn led to a second-hand seat upgrade for my daughter. Since we have no third child—and there are no plans for one—we have no need for the third seat. And so, I sent it out to proverbial pasture (read: chucked it in the garage) and then conveniently forgot all about it. That is, until “Bulk Item Day” forced us to remember, to ponder, at least for a moment, how our lives might change if we had someone to fill that seat.
Though I’m willing to let the seat go, I have a harder time giving up what it represents: confirmation, at least for me, that there will be no third child, no future need for our second-hand-hand-me down-seat.
It’s just a bulk item, I think as I walk it to the curb. Just some garbage that needs to go.
But I don’t fool myself for a second.
That night, at around 3:00a.m., I wake to my dog’s full bladder. I hear her scratching at the bed, signaling me to rise, groan, and begin my zombie walk toward the front door. I leash her, give her ample time to do her business, and as we turn back toward the house I spot the empty car seat aglow beneath the streetlamp. The sentimental father in me is compelled to give it one last look, to run my hand over its plastic one last time just to remember the feel.
Between the first buckle and the last, I’d grown adept at my buckling skills, the result of the unspoken agreement between me and the seat: as long as I obeyed the owners manual it wouldn’t go out of its way to emasculate me on principle. It was an arrangement that satisfied both parties, ensuring not only my children’s safety, but my pride as well.
“Come on, girl,” I say to the dog as she gives one last sniff to the car seat’s crevices in search of wayward Cheerios. She’s rewarded for her efforts, granting her one last meal courtesy of my children’s shared inability to hold tight to a grainy ring.
“Come on,” I repeat. “Leave it.”
There, under the glow of that streetlamp, it’s all I can do to pull her away from that seat.
All I can do to pull either of us away.
B.J. Hollars is a Brain, Child contributing blogger. He the author of several books, most recently From the Mouths of Dogs: What Our Pets Teach Us About Life, Death, and Being Human, as well as a collection of essays, This Is Only A Test. He serves as the reviews editor for Pleiades, a mentor for Creative Nonfiction, and a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. For more, visit: http://www.bjhollars.com