Family Ties

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 4, 2001


Siblings rival over front seat ride

In a parking lot when the brake lights of a car are lit, it’s natural to assume the automobile will soon be leaving the space. Too often, though, the spot isn’t actually available for awhile because the person inside is primping, looking for something or lighting a cigarette. In our car, the vehicle doesn’t move until the kids are finished pounding each other for the front seat. They don’t always fight in the car. Sometimes they fight outside the car, each holding the door handle with one hand and wrestling with the other. When the door opens, the victor sits, the loser sits on the victor, and the brawl intensifies. Even without a passenger-side airbag, I agree with Volvo that kids always belong in the rear seat. But Dad offered the front seat to my son as a coming-of-age ritual when he started school, and my daughter watched with envy for years. By the time she hit the institutional grind, she aimed to make up for lost time. In her favor is the fact that frequently, when her brother is in the front seat, he does something really irritating and will be banished to the back seat for a period of time. This, I will promptly forget, only to discover that my daughter has a computer type log running in her head. She can spit out his entire account immediately. The grievance, punishment, length of time served, time remaining. She can’t remember anything I tell her to do, but this database of my son’s offenses it flawless. She wins; the front seat is hers. He will naturally object to all this and the bickering begins, forcing me to bump them both to the back seat, which I promptly forget. When the car starts again, my daughter does not remind me that they are both now assigned to the rear. The program for mutual offenses is down in her database. What always amazes me about this front-seat controversy is the degree of insanity it can spawn. If we are running errands that are literally blocks apart, requiring a car ride of only a very few minutes, each leg of the trip is counted, measured and fought over. Einstein’s relativity theory requires less calculations. I should probably be happy about this; it’s more math than they think of all year in school. The easy job is mine; I just have to drive. But operating the vehicle can become downright hazardous when there is a physical brawl occurring right next to you. Flying arms and legs are definitely distracting to me, so we always delay departure until things have settled down. The wait for this can be somewhat lengthy, because, in the rare event that who-had-it-last is unclear, an actual investigation begins. My daughter brings her forensic skills into play. Just yesterday my son tried to deny that he was the most recent occupant of the seat. My daughter was suspicious, until she found something from his bookbag on the passenger side floor. BUSTED! He begrudgingly went to the back, but not without a resolution to make her pay. He found some of her things where she had sat last and spent the next few minutes torturing her (and me) by pretending to damage them in some way. Such provocation can spawn an interseat blowout. The fact that both children are confined by seat belts is a minor impediment. A truce only comes when I threaten to pull the car over. I really should be grateful. Some children just whine about being bored the entire drive. Mine are far too busy plotting their next move in the scheme for automobile first class. Neither competitor had the advantage until my son came up with a trump card soon after he heard me mention motion sickness. I had no idea how contagious that illness could be! The kid drags this malady out when his more determined opponent has cornered the spot. His sister’s compassion is not at all touching. In trying to understand this lunacy, I looked back at my own youth. It occurred to me that this feverish desire for the front seat doesn’t go away. It just changes at about age 15, when they begin to covet the other front seat. That’s when the real madness begins.