How long does it take you to properly strap your child into their car seat? For me it depends on the age of the child, but I would average it out to approximately 30 seconds per child. I did the math for my five children times maybe two trips a day, over the four year period in which they would need help with their buckles. As it turns out I will spend approximately 873,600 seconds putting my kids in seat belts. That is 242 hours! Do I really spend that much of my life fastening and un-fastening buckles?
Not only does it take a significant amount of my time, but the process of getting all of my kids safely restrained in their car seats can be highly frustrating. I have to loosen the belt if they're wearing a coat, tighten it if it is warm out, and change the height of the straps as they grow taller. Inevitably, once I get the straps adjusted to perfection, I have to take the whole thing apart to wash it. If I do it quickly at night, when it is not in use, it might be dry and ready to re-assemble and re-install in the morning before I need to leave again.
Then there are the times my kids refuse to be restrained in a car seat at all. If the child is older we'll sit there in the driveway, watching the minutes go by, waiting for them to give up and buckle up. My toddlers occasionally scream and arch their backs to prevent me from connecting the harness. All I can do is hold the child down with one hand while attempting to negotiate the buckles with the other. When my baby is through with her car seat she cries and will not be comforted. My choices are to let her cry it out while I drive on as quickly as allowed, or stop and take her out for a while, quite possibly extending her misery.
Don't get me wrong. I am a faithful car seat user, but I do own to some bitterness about it. I would be lying if I said there weren't times I wanted to drive to the nearest Good Will, pull all of the car seats from the car, drop them off and be done with it. Then, a few months ago, something happened that forever changed my attitude about car seats.
I was late, and had became stuck in traffic while driving a mini van filled with children to gymnastics. There were a only a couple of cars ahead of me, and as I looked past them I saw something that made my heart stop for a second. An old, red car was parked sideways across the right two lanes of opposite traffic. I should say what was left of the car. It looked as if someone had ripped off the front of the car, up to about the windshield, and then taken the pieces, crumpled them and strewn them all over the major intersection.
The police had just arrived and while one officer diverted traffic away from the car, I could see another talking with a young woman, who I assumed was the driver, by the side of the road. The officer seemed to give her permission to do something and I saw her run to the back seat door of the car. I couldn't see in as she opened the door, but she stood there for some seconds fumbling with something. I wondered what she could have in the back of her car that the officer's needed to see that badly, and why it was taking her so long to get it. Then it dawned on me. She was unbuckling a car seat.
I watched her pull a beautiful blond, 1-year-old boy from the car, his blanket grasped tightly in one hand. Then I watched her carefully walk, navigating her way through the wreckage, back to the side of the road.
At that point it was my turn to drive on, and I tore my tear filled eyes away from the scene. As I continued on my way I couldn't stop thinking about that mother, her baby, and a car seat. I thought about her sitting by the side of the road waiting for the traffic to stop so she could safely extract her son. I thought about her shaking hands struggling to undo the buckles while the traffic waited behind her. I thought about the hundreds if not thousands of times she had snapped and unsnapped those same clasps, and how there must have been times, when in a hurry, she had been tempted to skip the hassle just once. I thought about the 30 seconds she had spent that very afternoon strapping her little son in on their way to run errands, and how the outcome had made every irritating, seat buckling second of her life worth it.
Now, each day when I'm going through the car seat buckling process, I remember that woman, her baby, and his car seat. I remember that while I've never been in an accident or benefited substantially from our similar seats, she was and she did. I know the next time it could be me. I still can't say that I always enjoy the process, but I am always grateful for each car seat, every buckle, and the time I am able to carve out during the day to fasten my children in for a safe journey to our destination.