Scared snap-less? Seatbelt strategy stymied

When we embarked on a family drive to my grandparent’s house when I was young, we would pass this large building. There was no signage out front, and I was always curious as to what the building was. One day, as my dad drove us all to Mum and Pop’s, we inevitably passed it, and I finally asked my dad about the building.

My dad, while spying me through his rearview mirror said, “Oh, that? That’s the Seatbelt Federation building. They monitor which kids are wearing their seatbelts in the passing cars, so if I were you, I’d get mine on LIKE I TOLD YOU WHEN WE LEFT THE HOUSE.”

I couldn’t get my seatbelt on fast enough. I’d like to say it was my childlike naïveté and not sheer idiocy that spurred me to action, but I’m pretty sure I was a teenager before I realized it was really a professional building that rented office space.

Fast forward some 30 odd years, to my daily routine of strapping two girls into their car seats. They’re both at the age now where they want to do everything on their own, never more so than during this process. “DAD, stop! I can do this!” Our oldest can, in fact, strap herself in; our youngest has only exhibited the ability to occasionally accomplish this feat, so I’ve taken to buckling her in but allowing her to snap the breastplate. This has been a happy compromise which has caused me to feel like a great father, if only for a few seconds.

Besides demanding they strap themselves in, they’re also questioning why they need to be secured in the first place. Knowing that delving into the topic of car accidents will only lead to deeper questions about death and Heaven, I’ve responded by telling them that if the police were to catch them without their seatbelts, I would get arrested and have to go to jail and eat scorpions. (Years ago, while trying to manage some behavior that I can’t even remember but for which my wife and I may or may not have led our daughter to believe could result in hard time, we informed our oldest that the only available cuisine in jail is dead scorpions.) Unlike my father’s tactic with me, I believe this information has intrigued the girls more than it has scared them straight.

Last week I was driving them home from school after the usual routine of allowing the girls to strap themselves in. For some reason—likely because I was juggling “Frozen”-themed backpacks and multiple construction paper projects while trying to field questions about why we can’t immediately go swimming—I neglected to ensure our youngest had properly snapped her breastplate.

At a red light about five minutes into our drive home, on realizing her sister was not properly strapped in, our oldest pounced on exposing the misdeed. “DAD DAD DAD DAD DAD SHE DIDN’T SNAP IT SHE DIDN’T SNAP IT!” This was not panic out of urgency for her sister’s safety, by the way, but unhinged excitement at the thought of her sister being in trouble.

I quickly turned around, snapped the breastplate and, while taking my fair share of culpability, delved into lessons about trust, danger, and responsibility.

At the next red light, I turned around to see if either of them had absorbed anything I had been saying. They hadn’t, of course, best evidenced by the super-intense glare of our oldest out the opposite-side window. “What are you looking at?” I asked as I turned to see for myself.

It was a police car waiting in the lane right next to us. By the time I turned back around, our oldest was flailing her arms, furiously trying to get the officer’s attention while also pointing at her sister and yelling, “ARREST HER! ARREST HER! SHE WASN’T STRAPPED IN! CAN YOU HEAR ME? ARREST HER!”

Thank God the windows were closed and the light turned green before she actually got the officer’s attention and started lobbying for my arrest, too. Yet again, trying to implement a parenting strategy of yore backfired.

Oh well. Nothing left to do now but fess up to the Seatbelt Federation, which I did in a formal letter. Waiting to hear back.

Note: This column appears in the 10/16 issue of The Glendale Star and the 10/17 issue of the Peoria Times.