A Perspective From the Backseat of a Car

I spent some very long hours in the backseat of a car when I was a child. That’s how our parents transported kids from place to place when we weren’t riding in the bed of pickup trucks without toppers.

Riding in the backseat of a car was torturous.

Even though we were never confined to car seats, neither did we have electronic games nor videos to keep us preoccupied. Instead, we entertained ourselves by reading books, playing travel games or irritating each other.

When none of those activities interested me, I simply paid attention to the world around me.

I paid attention to the landscape passing by outside, and I paid attention to my parents’ conversations. I just didn’t participate in the conversations very much.

I used to feel quite grown up when I listened to adult discussions about politics or current events or even us children. And I liked feeling grown up.  At least I thought I did until one road trip changed me forever.

We were on our way home from somewhere, and we were very hungry. Knowing my parents, they were probably trying to get home before they wasted money at a restaurant when there was plenty of food at home.

But the hour was late, we were irritable and food was necessary.

So they decided to appease us, and we stopped at what I recall was a ski resort. My family walked past a long line of people waiting to get into the restaurant’s bar. But when we reach the dining area, the host gave my brother and me a disgusted look then turned to my parents and said, “It’s after 9:00. Children aren’t allowed.”

Instead of simply turning around and looking for food elsewhere, my parents chose to argue with the host. And I chose to wish I was a million miles away. The host prevailed, and we had to once again walk by the long line of people.

I honestly don’t remember if we got something to eat elsewhere that night. I do remember the discussion that I heard from the backseat of the car. My parents were frustrated they had faced discrimination because of their children.

I also remember feeling guilty that I was a child who apparently didn’t deserve to eat in a real restaurant. And I remember the look on the host’s face when he sneered “Children aren’t allowed.”

That incident haunted me for years.

I balked every time my parents headed into a restaurant that appeared to be more for adults than for children. I didn’t like going somewhere I wasn’t wanted, and I didn’t want to be in a place where people could single me out as someone who didn’t belong. And I certainly didn’t want to be in a place where people thought I wasn’t worthy or capable of dealing with the situation.

So, when someone asks “what do you think about kids in adult-oriented places?” my immediate answer isn’t “as long as they behave, they should be allowed.”  Nor is it “they don’t belong.”

My answer has nothing to do with whether parents think their children are mature enough to handle a situation, whether they are trying to expose their children to culture or whether they just want to parade their children as well-trained little people in front of others.

My answer has everything to do with how the children will feel in that situation and whether they will truly miss anything by not being there. In most cases, the children are probably better served by waiting a few years.

That’s a lesson I learned from all the years I spent in the backseat of a car.

When I was there, I wanted nothing more than to move to the front seat. But in retrospect, I learned a lot in the backseat when I was often forced to observe and listen. When I was finally allowed to ride in the passenger seat, I engaged in conversations with my parents. I also had a clearer picture of where we were headed. A few years later, I even moved into the driver’s seat, where I had to make tough choices on my own.  But by then, I was prepared.

The learning process was gradual, not sudden. And it all started with the knowledge gained from riding in the backseat of a car.

About Trina Bartlett

I live in the Eastern Panhandle of WV, with one dog, two cats, a theater kid in high school, a band kid at West Virginia University and a husband who works strange hours. When I'm not working as a director at a nonprofit social service organization or being a mom, I can generally be found riding my bike, walking my dog and stirring things up.

Posted on October 25, 2012, in DPchallenge, My life and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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