Somewhere in South America right now there’s a guy driving a truckload of nitroglycerin down a narrow, snow-packed mountain road. He can tell by the acrid smell that his brakes are about to go out. He’s got 30 miles to go. His heart hammers in his chest, but he reminds himself it could be worse. He could be driving a newborn home from the hospital.
That’s the most terrifying drive in your life. You go about 5 miles an hour, and you wish you were surrounded by men in blaze orange jackets waving smoke pots on the end of 6-foot sticks. When you’re finally in the garage you feel like the guys from Apollo 13 after splashdown.
For the next five years you’ll strap the tot in a plastic shell belted into the back seat, because Child Protective Services could take it away if the kid’s back there rolling around. I grew up in the era before seat belts, so Child Protective Service was my mother’s right hand swinging out to hold me in place if she had to hit the brakes.
She did this even after seat belts, and it made for awkward conversations. “Oh, I guess [WHAM, cough] I guess college is going fine.”
I bring this up because of a news story from last week: Two school buses collide. No one was injured. It reminds you how much you trust buses: After five years of belting the kid in like Laika the Space Dog and running background checks on the babysitter’s extended family, you walk down to the corner, wait for the bus, then say, “Hello, complete stranger. Put my child on a padded shelf in the back and drive around town for half an hour.”
There are good reasons school buses don’t have seat belts, which I lack the space to describe. No one really seems to want them, even though they would reduce the number of kids who smush their faces against the back window and make goofy expressions at people in the car behind them. Besides, buses are also a reminder that we might worry a bit too much.
Not to say I’m not glad my kid wasn’t on the buses that collided. It was science project day, and she had all the nitro we had in the house.