As I paused in the driveway and waited for the garage door to open, I felt an unexpected presence by my side. Unbeknownst to me, my six year old son had slipped the confines of his booster seat in the rearmost row and made his way forward past his sisters with surprising stealth. Now he stood between my wife and I as we prepared to travel the last few feet of our journey.
My first thought was annoyance. Little kids are supposed to remain in their seats with their hands and arms in the vehicle at all times. Yet for some reason here he was walking around inside our van in bold defiance of everything that he had been taught since we first strapped him into a car seat as a squalling, red faced infant. Didn’t he know most car accidents happen close to home?
Caught off guard I opened my mouth to say something harsh, but before I could an old memory clawed its way to the surface. Reaching around behind my son, I swept him onto my lap, “Take us in.” I told him. My wife gave me a surprised look but said nothing as my son gripped the wheel with eager anticipation. While I handled the pedal work and gave the wheel an occasional assisting nudge, my little guy brought us into the garage with amazing skill. He was absolutely delighted with himself, and in that moment my life came full circle.
Almost 40 years earlier, at around the same age, I too had been between my mother and father in the front seat when I also tested the bounds of good sense in the last few feet of a family journey when I innocently asked if I could drive. My own father, not one to brook any back-talk from any of his 5 kids looked at me hard, but instead of a quick rebuke responded with the unexpected. Setting me in his lap, he let me guide the our car, an Oldsmobile Dynamic 88, into our garage.
It was a moment for the ages. I can still feel the Oldsmobile’s thin plastic wheel in my hands, the back side scalloped to fit my fingers and the vibration from the mighty V8 under the hood, as we slipped smoothly into the garage. The experience changed my life and from that day forward, no matter how far we traveled, those last few feet were always spent on my father’s lap the two of us bonding over the joy of driving.
As car enthusiasts, we’ve all heard talk about how the new generation of kids lack a real interest in our hobby. We’ve all read about hot the cell phone and social networks have usurped the role of the car in the transition to adulthood, too, but I see other reasons for this generation’s attitude towards cars. Belted in the back seat with a DVD player to occupy their time, most little kids view the car as a sort of mobile living room. Prohibited by law from the front seat until they become “tweens,” kids don’t get the opportunity to see what is happening up front and, as a result, they never fantasize about what it must be like to slide over one spot and actually sit behind the wheel. Without the fantasy, the seed doesn’t take root.
Not on my watch. I love everything about cars and, much to my wife’s dismay, I have been programming all three of my children to be motor heads from the day they were born. Due to my efforts, my son Harley wants to be a race car driver and my oldest daughter, Maiko, wants to be a doctor-princess.
I won’t give up on her though. I want all my kids to feel same the joy I get from driving and, as much as I hate little footprints all over my nice leather seats, I let my children play in my car whenever I am cleaning it. I let them crawl behind the wheel, roll down the windows, open the sunroof and crank up the tunes. I let them sit in the big chair with the wheel in their hands and the gearshift under their right hand and I let them imagine what it must be like to be in control. Then I tell them that it isn’t a fantasy, it’s a preview. It’s only a matter of time until the seed takes root.
Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He writes for any car website that will have him and enjoys public speaking. According to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.