Be Careful What You Wish For . . .

Nancy Olson is a former broadcast journalist, wife of Congressman Pete Olson and mom of two.

I look over at the passenger seat next to me. It’s empty. I think, “How did this happen?” I then remind myself that I once wanted it this way; I looked forward to this day. Now, maybe I am having second thoughts.

A woman’s car has an interesting lifecycle. Before we have children, it’s our space, our sanctuary. We play the music we want, and no one alters our pre-set buttons on the radio. The passenger seat beside us is our make-shift office. Each day, we fill it with items on our “to do” list — things we need for work, purchases that might need to be returned, items we’ve borrowed and need to give back, dry cleaning that needs to be dropped off. You get the picture. The seat helps keep us organized and focused.

And then something happens. We have children. In the beginning, we can still use the seat as our staging area, but now it is filled with lots of new items — the diaper bag, extra clothing, favorite toys, etc.  Basically, anything the newborn in the back seat would need for a trip to the grocery store. This stage lasts for a while, and then maybe another child comes along, and now you have to learn to strike the precarious balance of keeping two small people happy as you attempt an outing.  In the process, you find you become incredibly adept at reaching back and handing snacks to a disgruntled toddler at the traffic light or picking up a toy that has dropped to the floor. Who knew an arm could reach that far?

Kate and Grant Olson.

The years pass, and now the time comes for another seismic shift in the transportation universe:  your oldest is big enough to move to the passenger seat. At first, their excitement and joy at being able to sit next to mom in the front seat helps you usher in this new chapter. But, once the “newness” wears off, you find your world has been permanently altered, again. Your radio stations are now replaced with “Kid Bop,” and more importantly, your make-shift office is gone. At first you don’t understand the full impact of the change, but you will. Suddenly, at the end of the day, you open the trunk and see all of the things you forgot to do. The dry cleaning may go days without being dealt with, your return pile just continues to grow, library books aren’t returned before their due date, and you can’t begin to find the casserole dish you meant to give back to your friend because it’s lost underneath the stroller and sports equipment. Your world is turned upside down, you can’t get organized and you know all would be so much better if you could just get your passenger seat back!

But, it will take years. It’s not long before your younger child is big enough to ride in the front seat as well. So, now the battles begin every time you try to take your children somewhere. They argue incessantly over who gets to ride “shotgun.” You devise a schedule, but, ultimately, someone always seems to end up in tears. All you want is your sanctuary.

The sands fall through the hourglass, and suddenly, to your disbelief, your first born is getting a driver’s license. No more battles over who gets the front seat. Your youngest child now realizes that “car time” becomes your one opportunity of the day to discuss issues you feel need addressing, so the headphones often go on as soon as they get in the front seat. If you are lucky enough to have your questions answered, the responses come as single words or with the nod of a head. You are now counting the days when they, too, get a license, and you can finally be by yourself again, in peace.

As I face the graduation of my youngest from high school this year, I am beginning to realize I should have been more careful what I wished for. From the day your child-ren are born, people begin to tell you to savor every moment because the years will pass by so quickly. During some of those years, you have a hard time believing them. But, they were right.  I’ve had my passenger seat back for the last couple of years. And you know what? I’m not any more organized or more efficient — just a little lonelier.

Until next time,