Thursday, April 6, 2017

Shutting the Shuttle Down

Twenty years. That's how long My Lovely Wife and I have run the shuttle. This September will mark twenty years of transporting the transportationally-disadvantaged to any number of locations within a 20-mile radius of our home for any number of reasons.
  • Doctor appointments
  • Daycare
  • Day camps
  • Pre-school
  • Gymnastics
  • Dance classes
  • Elementary school
  • Sunday school
  • Girl Scouts
  • Boy Scouts
  • Birthday parties
  • Middle school
  • Dance recitals
  • Sleepovers
  • Summer camps
  • Church youth groups
  • Band camps
  • High School
  • Band competitions
  • Concerts
  • Robotics competitions
  • Track meets
  • College tours
Logging sufficient hours each month to earn a chauffeur's license isn't the half of it. Child safety seats required for small children come equipped with a complexity of straps and harnesses worthy of the greatest puzzle masters. When strapping your first born into a car seat outside the hospital, they ought to warn you to prepare yourself for a buckling system so ridiculously intricate it should come equipped with a flight attendant to guide you through the procedure every time you leave the house.

"Take the right shoulder strap, feed it through the plastic chest thingy and down between your child's legs. Take the left shoulder strap, feed it through the other side of the plastic chest thingy until you realize you have the chest thingy backwards. Undo the right shoulder strap, reverse the chest thingy, feed the right shoulder strap back through the chest thingy, then the left shoulder strap, and place the two metal tabs at the ends of the straps together. They should fit like puzzle pieces, but they won't snap together because that would be cheating. Holding the two metal tabs together with one hand and picking up your child's fallen binky with the other, press the conjoined tabs into a narrow, invisible groove that lies directly beneath your child's heavily diapered buttocks. Spend the next three minutes struggling to fit the conjoined tabs into the invisible slot while cursing. Once you find the narrow slot and have inserted the metal tabs, press with a force much greater than you believe is safe for your child. If your child is not crying when you have finished, then he or she is probably not securely buckled. Return to step one and repeat the entire process."

It isn't just infants who need car seats. As your children grow, car seats morph like Transformers from back-facing infant seats, to forward facing infant seats, to half-infant/half-toddler seats, to small toddler booster seats, to large toddler booster seats, to the my-child-is-way-too-freaking-big-to-need-a-booster-seat booster seats. If there weren't a cut-off for age, most people I know would be riding with booster seats because the cut-off for height is six-foot-three.

If you're silly enough to have more than two children -- in fairness to us, effective family planning is impossible when they choose to arrive in pairs -- you'll need a vehicle of size, if not two. When our first child arrived, half our fleet was instantly hobbled because the Mazda Miata was not designed to serve as a baby-transporting device. The Miata, itself, is barely bigger than a pram, with almost enough leg room for a tall dwarf and head clearance adequate for a medium-height badger. With the invention of twins, it didn't take long for us to embrace the minivan, and later the minivan with automatic doors. Scoff if you must at the unsexy middle-aging of my family unit, but few things liberate the middle-class American more than pressing a button to eject children into the school drop off line. It's like all the convenience of tossing them out the window, only with a brief stop and the assurance of a soft landing.

Don't think older children are any easier to shuttle. Sure, you can celebrate ditching the diaper bag, bottles and spare onesies, but they are quickly replaced by school bags, instruments, dance bags, and after school club supplies. If children aged without taking on extracurricular activities, which I believe is a perfectly reasonable expectation, then life might get easier, but they don't. Before you know it, you're running each of them in a different direction for a variety of reasons that all begin at the exact same time at locations miles apart, and finish in 30 minute intervals conveniently spread over the dinner hours. Artistic programs such as band and dance are the best, by which I mean the most obnoxious, because there's something about artistic people that instills in them the belief that their programs represent the most important commitments your child will ever make. Every rehearsal and performance is mandatory. Absence or tardiness -- regardless of how many of your relatives just tragically died from powdered sugar inhalation at the donut factory explosion -- results in the stripping of privileges or public shaming. As if you weren't already stressed about managing a multi-stop municipal bus route, now your child is fussing at you to drive faster so she won't have to do push-ups in front of the rest of the kids in marching band.

With one child halfway through college (how the fu-hell did I get that old?) and the twins mere months away from being granted their driver's licenses, it might be possible that M&D Taxi is coming to the end of its days. I say "might be" because we so far have been colossally wrong about each coming stage being easier than the present one. I can not, however, in my wildest imaginings foresee the need for continued shuttle service, at least not on a daily basis, even with the twins sharing a vehicle.

Should the end of the shuttle era truly be at hand, the ramifications will ripple through our personal and professional lives with immeasurable results. My Lovely Wife and I will be able to spend the kind of time together we haven't enjoyed since September 1997. If we're smart, we won't leave the house for a month.

© 2017 Mark Feggeler