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Driving Yourself Crazy?

Stay Safe—and Sane while You Play Chauffeur

Like many moms, I'm our family's primary chauffeur. With kids buckled in behind and beside me, I've mastered moves to make Michael Jordan drool. From my seat, without taking my eyes off the road, I can pass backward?with my weak hand?a granola bar and a juice box to any passenger in any seat in my van.

I know some moms who think that maneuver is ? well, a kindergarten lesson in kid chauffeuring. To become a more able driver, I've watched those moms, I've asked questions, I've mimicked their skills and I've learned a thing or two. I don't crave time in the car with my kids, but neither do I dread it anymore. Maybe the lessons I've learned will help you.

getting rolling
If your kids are like mine, the words "It's time to go" are their cue to concoct a reason for a long stay in a locked bathroom, discover their favorite pet is missing or fall down the basement steps and knock a permanent tooth loose.

You can get kids moving by repeatedly yelling, "It's time to go!" or you can reward those who are prompt. Keep a chart on an index card taped to the dash. Whenever your child is in his seat, buckled, on time, record it. After five checks, treat him. Make him work to earn the Happy Meal he pleads for each time he sees those golden arches.

Or, mete out a consequence. For every minute he keeps you waiting, sentence him to five minutes in the car after you reach your destination. The threat of the rest of the team getting mad at him for holding up practice might be all the incentive he needs.

Don't be left behind in the push to get rolling. Decide ten minutes before departure time to let the phone ring. An extended phone call can lead to unsupervised kids waiting in a parked vehicle. They'll squabble with each other or run off to play with the neighborhood kids, thwarting your efforts to be punctual. So let the phone ring. It's probably a telemarketer anyway.

destination unknown
It sounds like a no-brainer, but not knowing where you're going is a mistake real mothers make. I have.

We arrived at a gym?winded and psyched for a playoff basketball game. The building was dark and locked. With the coach and other team members on their way to the actual game, it was impossible to contact them for directions. So I guessed and we were on to the next possible gym. Three gyms later, we found the game?already in progress.

Although he didn't believe it, my son's disappointment as a would-have-been starter was surpassed by my regret. I knew this hint was valuable when an experienced mom later shared it: Keep copies of the activities schedules in your car.

seating arrangements
For awhile, the slightest jingle of the keys sent my boys racing to the van yelling, "I ride shot-gun!" The first to plant his posterior in the front seat stuck there as permanently as gum plastered to a shoe's sole, while the other pummeled and insulted him.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends that children under 12 sit in the back seat, away from windshields and airbags. What a great excuse for moms to send squabbling kids to the rear of the vehicle! Our van doesn't have airbags, so we resorted to seat assignments. We adopted an easy-to-remember schedule. Matt in front on Mon days, Wednesdays and Fridays. Phillip in front on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. No trading. Whenever Dad's driving, like on Sundays, the front seat is mine, all mine.

drive in peace
Sitting still next to a sibling is probably the worst torture imaginable to a child, so it's no surprise that car time can bring out the worst in kids. Ignore normal bickering, but when the conflict heats up it's time to intervene.

Sure, you can temporarily quiet kids by yelling. In fact, my kids know a very emphatic "Not now!" is their cue to be quiet, or else. I use the "code" occasionally if I'm in a tense driving situation that demands my full attention.

But for the most part, I find yelling only adds to the tension and communicates I'm as out of control as the kids are. Instead, I've tried using the guidelines for resolving sibling conflicts cited in Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish's book Siblings Without Rivalry (Avon). These suggestions take some practice, but I've found them helpful.

The authors recommend acknowledging your children's emotions and point of view by saying something like, "I know you're angry with each other. You're bored and tired of being in this car." Then ask for their suggestions for solving the disagreement.

If they scorn peace and your destination is more than a few blocks away, pull over to sit until they work it out. I've discovered that my children resolve arguments quickly if not doing so means they'll be late for their activity. If they can't resolve it, and you have room, separate them for the rest of the trip. And no, you can't put one on the roof!

It's also important for kids to recognize that the car is not the living room. Explain to them the dangers of distracting the driver. Consider issuing more severe consequences for misbehavior in the car, like grounding to their bedroom for the next activity.

the road home
A recent study showed that parents, primarily moms, average an hour or more a day driving kids around. If you're like me, you log most miles in the late afternoon, having already put in a full day. If your chauffeuring schedule looks hectic, prepare for it by enjoying some down time in the early afternoon. Leave home several minutes early so you won't be rushed. Bring along tapes you like. If you must rush out without supper, bring along a nutritious snack. Never leave home without a book or magazine. You never know when the coach will keep the team overtime.

As the primary driver with a hectic schedule, it's easy to yearn for this part of life to be over. But don't wish it away. When your time as driver is up, it will likely be because you're handing over the keys?to one of your passengers. That thought is enough to encourage any mother to make the best of her time as chauffeur.

Faith Tibbetts McDonald is a writer, a former teacher and the mother of three.

Car Talk for Teens

The next time you're shuttling your teenager somewhere, take advantage of your forced togetherness and try these conversation starters.

The Un-Game
One of you asks a question and the other person answers it. The only rule? You have to be honest. Try questions like: "If you could ask God one thing, what would it be and why?" or "What five people, living or dead, would you love to meet?"

Something I Like about You
Each time you make a right turn, tell your teenager one thing you appreciate about her. At each left turn, she does the same for you. Go ahead and bring up the silly, "I like that your hair looks different every day," as well as the serious, "I admire the way you care about your friends."

Let your teenager play a favorite tape or choose the radio station. Then, ask him why he likes a particular group or song. If you're mystified by today's music scene, this is a great way to get the insights of an expert. If you're concerned about his choices, the car is a good place to calmly talk about your reasons and work toward a compromise.

?Carla Barnhill

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