We have fallen into a little ritual after we get home from work and preschool. I pull into the garage, and as I unload the car of lunchboxes, groceries, laptop, artwork etc, I also unbuckle the kids, giving them the freedom to scramble into the front of the car to play "lets pretend to drive somewhere".
I recall that Geekygirl first developed this passion at around two years of age. It had waned over the past year or so, but Geekyboy, now at exactly that same age, has suddenly become obsessed with the car. I let them play, with the engine turned off all they can really do is flip the wiper switches, mess with the radio and turn on the hazard lights. Only once, back when Geekygirl first became switch flipping crazy, did I commit that dreadful parental crime of letting her lock herself (and the keys) inside the car. Geekyboy was just a few weeks old at the time, and I can still recall the panic that began to rise in me as I tried to talk a two year old through the mechanics of unlocking the doors of the car while a fractious baby's wails began to reach crisis level.
I did eventually coach her through opening the door, remaining calm throughout, and I still believe it is one of my finest moments. I'll probably be tempted to bring it up in future job interviews, so proud I was of getting though this crisis, but perhaps potential employers might not appreciate the finesse involved. Those in the know can appreciate that it was the human relations equivalent of performing a bomb disposal.
These days I'm careful to keep the keys on my person, so all I have to watch out for is being deafened by Spanish radio when I turn on the engine the next day, or of accidentally driving half way to work with my hazard lights flashing.
This evening though, the game caused me to pause for another reason.
Geekygirl jumped into the front passenger seat and said to her brother "You be daddy and drive, I'll sit in Mummy's seat".
Now I drive the kids around a lot, but what she had picked up on was that when we all go out as a family, Geekydaddy almost always takes the drivers seat, and I ride shotgun.
I was remined of an article I read not so long ago mentioning that in the majority of families Dad always drives the car on family outings. This arrangement sends a subtle message to our kids. The person driving the car is the person in control, and by always having Dad drive maybe we are saying that Dad has more power.
Now we consider ourselves feminists, Geekydaddy and I, but we fall neatly into this stereotype. I started to think about why this was. We got into the habit when we first got together for two very good reasons. Geekydaddy was the only one who had a car, and I didn't even have a drivers license! I didn't actually learn to drive until I was thirty years old, but now I love to handle a car, and I'm pretty good at it too. Still, I do prefer to be a passenger, especially on the long, often wet and snowy drives to Tahoe.
Now that I can see that the kids have internalized a message from our driving habits, a message I don't particularly want us to be sending, I think we should change our habits a little bit.
How does it work in your family?