Backseat Mama

She always rode shotgun and controlled the radio. Then she had a baby.


Motherhood is a thief. Sure, a wonderful new human being is added into your life, but the list of things you lose in exchange--uninterrupted sleep, spontaneous travel, time to shower--is endless. So during my first pregnancy, I tried to mentally prepare for everything I'd have to give up. Who knows? I told myself, trying to be a good sport. Maybe less frequent washings would be good for my hair.

But no one ever told me I'd have to sacrifice riding shotgun. The day we left the hospital after my C-section, I stared at Sky's tiny form lost in her car seat in back, then slid gingerly into the front passenger seat. But I couldn't expunge her strapped-in image from my mind and craned my neck the whole way home just to catch frequent glimpses of her in our special baby-viewing mirror.

The next trip, since my surgery had ruled out driving for the time being, I again headed for the passenger side. I opened the door, then stepped back to look longingly at my rear-facing baby girl. I paused. This would be a longer ride than the journey from the hospital. Surely it wouldn't hurt for me to sit next to her. You know, in case she needed anything.

For the next few weeks, my behind never touched the front seat. I can't say I was pleased with this--my role as trusted navi-gator was relinquished, and I often had to shout to be heard by my husband. Wasn't part of the appeal of adulthood never having to call shotgun? Or always having control of the radio? I was also embarrassed and apologized to my husband, offering to get him a chauffeur's cap so he'd at least look the part. But I was far more comfortable with Sky in clear view. I stocked the backseat with everything she might require--burp cloths, her pacifier or just a friendly face. She mostly slept.

Eventually, I dialed back the worried-mom bit and ventured into the front seat. It worked for a while, but soon enough, I was forced to return. Sky was getting older and becoming her own person--her own stubborn, demanding person who disliked being strapped into her car seat for more than five minutes. I took up permanent residence in the adjacent space, dangling toys, singing and making faces to keep her little mouth from screwing up in screams of defiance.

I remained chauffeured for months. At first, I avoided the eyes of other travelers, convinced I was the only freaky person who insisted on backseat real estate when the front was perfectly and obviously vacant. But as I talked to other mothers, I discovered I was far from an anomaly. Roads across the country are filled with family cars whose coveted shotgun seat remains empty while backseats are occupied by moms and their newborn offspring.

When you see us, please wave. We're not crazy. We're just newly minted fans of a peaceful car ride, and, like sleep, we'll get it any way we can. Backseat mothers of the world, unite!

And tell the others, OK?