“I Wish I Could Sit Next To You, Papa”

This morning I picked up my little granddaughter to watch her while the kids were at work. I bundled her into her state-approved car seat, and we hit the road to my place.

About halfway there, in her sweet little voice, she said, “I wish I could sit next to you, Papa.”

“I wish you could, too, Sweetie,” I replied. “It would make it so much easier to talk to you.”

“You know”, I continued, “when your Mommy was a little girl, she used to be able to sit right next to me so we could see each other and talk when we were driving around.”

“Yeah…”, she mused. “Why can’t I sit next to you?”

“Well… because there are laws – rules – that say you have to sit in back.”

After another long pause while she considered that, “I wish I could sit next to you, Papa.”

Yeah. Me, too, Kiddo. When your Mom was your age, her car seat was strapped into the front passenger seat right next to me. That way, when we talked, we could glance over at each other just like in every other normal conversation. Because seeing the other person when we talk to them is a very important part of human conversation; being able to see the non-verbal communication cues. A lot of the way we talk to each other is communicated through our body language. That’s one of the reasons people are more likely to miscommunicate over the phone or through written contact: no body language or facial expressions.

It’s why most important meetings are conducted face-to-face: it’s important to see as well as hear what the other person’s saying.

But instead, people who think they know better for us how we have to live our lives have taken away our choice on how you can ride in the car with me, so you have to sit in the back. I’m truly sorry about that. I often wonder what we adults are teaching you kids about how to relate to other people by sticking you back in the far reaches of the car away from us.

They say it’s so you’ll be safer when we’re driving down the road, but I have to wonder if they thought that out all the way. After all, part of our human nature is to look at someone we’re talking with. But instead of being able to just glance over to the seat next to me – which is just a natural act – now I have to try to glance all the way into the back where you’re sitting. How does that make you safer, if it might make an accident more likely to happen by making me do that?

And what happens if you suddenly scream? You’ve done that sometimes, haven’t you? Usually it’s because you got suddenly excited about something. But how can I tell if it’s just that normal response to something that excited you, or if something bad’s happened that I need to respond to immediately? There’s only one way to know: I have to look.

Want to hear something funny, little girl? When I was your age I used to sit right next to my mommy in the car. Want to hear something even funnier? Back in those days we didn’t even have seat belts, let alone kiddie car seats! Amazing, huh? To hear some people today, you’d think it’s a miracle that any of us even survived! But we did.

In just a few years you’ll be able to read this for yourself, and you’ll see the rest of the answer to that question you asked me today. I hope this makes some sense to you.

It sure doesn’t to me.

© Brian Baker 2012