By Jennifer Christgau-Aquino
“Um, Mrs. Adeline’s mom…” says Kay, a classmate of my 7-year-old daughter Adeline, as she peers into the dark caverns of my car.
“You can call me Jen,” I say.
“Mrs. Jen, where am I supposed to step?” She looks back at me and then at the mess of smashed chips, books, hair ribbons, sweaters and raisins covering the carpet, which is invisible underneath the pile of junk.
“Anywhere, honey, anywhere.” I just want her and the other three children, including Adeline, to get into the car and off the busy street. It’s field trip day and I’m in charge of escorting four second graders to a goat farm in Pescadero.
She steps inside the car, wobbling over a book, crunching something green and once edible, and passing by melted crayons. Three others make the same perilous journey to the back of the car and buckle themselves in.
“Adeline’s mom, your car is really dirty. I mean, like really dirty. It’s like a garbage truck,” says another child Cleo.
I turn the key and pull away from the curb. “I know,” I sigh. “What do you guys want to listen to? We’ve got a long drive.”
In my rearview mirror I see Tyler pull a cookie from the back cup holder.
“Eat it,” my daughter, Adeline, dares. All four kids start screaming, “Ewwww.” He throws it on the floor, next to a pile of Legos.
“Why don’t you take the car to one of those cleaning places. There’s one with a duck that holds a sign and dances,” he says.
“Oh, yeah, that’s where my mom goes,” Kay says.
“I’ll pay the kids to clean it,” I say. “It’s their mess.”
“But the duck place is way better than doing it yourself,” Tyler says.
“Uh, huh,” I say. “But that costs money and I guarantee you a day later the car will be a mess again because this one,” I say, pointing to Adeline, “won’t know the responsibility of picking after herself. She’ll just think that someone else will do it for her.”
“Mom, I try to keep it clean, but it’s John,” says Adeline, pinning the mess on her 3-year-old brother.
“Yeah, I don’t think John does Mad Libs and colors,” I say, referring to the crayons stuck between the tracks in the rear captain’s chair.
“Well, just don’t let them bring anything into the car or eat in here,” Kay says.
“Good advice,” I say.
“I’d starve and be bored,” Adeline says laughing. I see her lick her finger and start drawing a picture on the window.
“Adeline, stop that. That’s disgusting,” I say.
“Mom, can you put on The Trumpeter Swan?” Adeline asks. “I want my friends to hear the story.”
“You even listen to books in the car?” says Cleo with more disgust than if I’d dared her to eat the cookie.
“Like I said, we spend a lot of time in here driving from one place to another,” I say.
“Yeah, me too,” Kay says.
“Not me,” Tyler says. “I just go to after school care because my parents both work. You should get a job. Then your car will be cleaner.”
“No, no, what you should do is just buy a new car,” Kay says. “You should get a new car and then don’t let anyone eat in it. Start over. That’s what my mom did. You should be more like my mom.”
“Mom, please with the Trumpeter Swan?” Adeline asks again.
“No!” my other three passengers scream.
“I don’t think that’s a popular request, honey,” I say. “We can listen to it on your way to CCD.”
“Adeline does CCD?” Cleo asks. “Is that like a music group?”
“No, it’s a religious education class that she attends once a week,” I say.
“Oh, I did do that last year on Sundays,” Tyler says. “It sucks. Hey, did you know that there’s a dead fly in a Tupperware back here?”
The girls scream so loud that they drown out the passing cars on Highway 1.
“It’s OK. It’s OK. It’s my son’s pet. Just leave it alone,” I say.
“You should do your personal best to keep it clean,” Cleo says reciting the school’s featured personality trait this week.
“Sadly, this is my personal best,” I say. “Sometimes you have to lower the expectations for your personal best, because there are too many other things you have to be good at.”
“I really don’t understand what you’re saying right now,” Tyler says.
“Can you turn on the radio?” Kay asks.
Jennifer Christgau-Aquino is a freelance writer and former newspaper journalist who can often be seen lounging in her front yard while her two kids clean the car. She lives in California with her husband, children, dog, cat and two fish.