Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Yet Another Thing We're Not Allowed To Do

I mentioned in my post Lawnmower Maintenance Blues from last month that there are many things that our parents and grandparents could do just fine when they were our ages, that we either are incapable of doing, or aren't permitted to do.

Tonya and I just ran up against another one of these. You see, since our minivan reached out and touched someone this weekend we've been trying to figure out how we're going to work the repairs. In addition to the minivan, we have one other vehicle: a 1998 Toyota Corolla. And we have three kids. Some constraints:
  • The minivan will go in to the shop either Monday or Tuesday morning, and be in the shop for about a week. It is unknown at this time if this is a business week or a calendar week.
  • By law, each child must be in an approved child-safety seat.
  • You cannot get all three of these things in the backseat of the 1998 Toyota Corolla. The car is just too small. I've tried; it doesn't work.
  • Therefore, we can't just rely on the Corolla to get us through the week, unless Mommy and the girls commit to not going anywhere--not to MOPS, not to the Pillowfight Fairy's doctor's appointment on Wednesday, not to church, not to grocery runs--for the whole week.
  • I've got to go to work the whole week, with the exception of next Friday, which our whole company gets off (since we're on a 9/80 work schedule). I took so much time off during my lovely wife's Cast Caper last month that I can't afford to do any more.
  • We've also been relying so much on friends at church for child care lately, that we're getting embarrassed to go back to them and ask for more help. I mean, you do what you have to, but you certainly don't want to press other people's generosity too far.
  • If we rent a vehicle for the week (since our auto insurance policy doesn't have a rental reimbursement clause), it will add at minimum $500 to our expenses, on top of the deductible (not to mention the water heater we had to replace this weekend, and several hundred dollars worth of dental work for one of our cats that had to be done last week). We'd really like to slow the cash outgo, if only for a little while.

So, given these constraints, how do we manage to get through next week?

Hmmmm.... Tonya could take the... No, that wouldn't work.

Well, I could meet her at the body shop--but then, we'd have to find a babysitter...

You know, this whole thing would be a lot easier if we could fit all three kids in the back of our Toyota. Just like my parents fit my two brothers and me in the back of our Vega in the mid-70's! I mean, I realize that we're a more safety-conscious society now than we were then. And that Vega was ultimately rear-ended and totalled, with the three of us in the back seat at the time, in an accident that ruptured the fuel tank (but thankfully didn't set us all on fire). We know more about so many risks now, and so cars today are designed to be much safer. And if the statistics are to be believed, our roads today are also much safer than they were in the '70's; there are a lot fewer accidents per capita now than there were then. And people are more likely to use their seat-belts. Yes, yes, yes. I know this.


I get the distinct impression that all this safety has come at the expense of our freedom to be flexible; the freedom just to figure out how we're going to get through the day. After all, while a child riding in a modern booster seat is unquestionably well-protected, most of that protection would be afforded from nothing more than a lap-belt. A lap belt may not provide quite as much protection as a modern booster seat, but it's not that far off. And while I--as a parent who loves my children and wants to see them survive to adulthood--dutifully put them in their booster seats and strap them in tightly, it would sure help us get through the next week if I had the freedom to use a lap belt on even just one of my children to get us through one week. After all, this only means I would be protecting this child in exactly the same way that my parents protected me when I was growing up. (In fact, my children would be safer, because '98 Corollas don't have nearly the danger of detonating on impact as Vegas did.)

As we understand it, California law currently declares that all kids must be in age-appropriate boosters until they reach 6 years of age and 60 pounds, with a recommendation that they stay in the seats until 8 years and 80 pounds. We hear that there is a push on to make these 8/80 recommendations into requirements, meaning that many kids won't graduate from their child-safety seats until they reach puberty. Certain young ladies of Hmong descent may never actually graduate from these seats until they reach full adulthood and are no longer considered "children".

Now, I recognize the good intentions behind these laws and the efforts to strengthen them. And I certainly don't have the rhetorical skills to answer the retort, "So, you don't care about improving the child fatality rates from auto accidents?" But, for crying out loud--doesn't anyone in our government see the citizens of this state as adults? Doesn't anyone in power think we're qualified to judge the risks in our lives and the lives of our families, to make our own decisions thereon, and to accept the consequences of our actions? Is the imperative to keep us safe, to eliminate anything from society that might possibly harm us, so strong that we aren't allowed to muddle through in our own way?

This kind of political program does, of course have unintended consequences. Anyone in our society who decides to have more than two children now cannot get by with only small economy cars. The child seats we are required to use by law simply won't fit. We either have to go with full-sized cars into which these seats will barely fit, or we have to go up to SUVs or Minivans. I for one would love to drive around a Prius; but I can't get my kids in it. Or rather, I'm not permitted to get my kids in it, even though they'd all fit and all be reasonably safe, too. So when it's time to replace the Corolla, I'm going to have to go with something a lot bigger. I wouldn't have to if I had just a little more freedom than I do now.

I, for one, think we've gone too far in what originally was the right direction. The pendulum has swung too far; if it keeps going in this direction, expect to start seeing some pushback.

So, how are we going to muddle through next week? Well, my parents have decided to help us cut this Gordian Knot. We're going to trade our Corolla to them for the week, in exchange for their minivan. That will solve enough of our problems right there, that we think we can manage the rest--so long as I remember to maintain a little more distance between me and the cars I'm following.


A. Jean said...

Ah! My Libertine nephew! Thank goodness for Don and Joan so we don't have to bail you out of jail!

A. Jean

Wendy Power said...

For a while there I thought you might be strapping a kid to the roof! I'm glad you will be able to borrow M&D's van. It's raining, after all.

(The rental clause is only a couple of bucks a month. You may want to consider it for later on.)

Timothy Power said...

Have no fear. I may have delusions of civil disobedience or even rebellion from time to time, but as one who grew up as a Church of Christ boy, I was raised to believe that everyone who doesn't submit to the authorities as Peter said is going straight to Hell. I always come down off the wall eventually.

So everyone, repeat after me:

(Though the Happy Boy would probably be safe if we strapped him to the roof, as he's still in a rearward-facing seat.)

Chris said...

Amen brother!

When I started shopping for a new car last spring, I quickly realized that, unless I really wanted a Crown Victoria or something equally snazzy, I was going to have to get some type of SUV with three rows. I guess the upside is that we don't have to deal with too much "she touched me!!!" with them spread out that much.

Wendy Power said...

Our Highlander is built on a Camry frame; it drives just like a car but can fit loads of kids and stuff. A&C have one. Everyone's doing it.

The Homeschool and Etc. Blog said...

Well, it really peeves me that this law made our car that we had PLANNED for children growing into, etc. obsolete. We had (at the time) four children and when the older children were younger, they could sit rear-facing in the back of the station wagon. Now that they are older, the younger children are out of the car seats and can sit in the back of the station wagon. BUT... the owners' manual warns it's not safe to put boosters or anything back there.

They also warn that if you're above a certain height or weight you can't sit back there.

Result: The law has rendered our Ford Taurus unuseable as a family vehicle. People are just plain stupid and don't think of these things when they pass laws. We bought the car NEW for $22,000. Yay.

Mrs. C