- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 23, 2000

OK. Maybe I drove my children everywhere when they were little. And maybe I was so relaxed about it that I once arrived at a birthday party only to realize I had left my youngest child asleep in her crib at home. So I just drove home, got her and drove back.

But driving my 18-month-old grandson to his doctor's appointment was a very different matter. This was someone else's child, and I was nervous. In fact, I was plagued by images of 18-wheelers hanging on the rear bumper of my car, angry drivers yelling obscenities as they passed me crawling cautiously at 25 mph, and road crews swinging the "slow" sign at my lane while they accidentally swung the "go quickly and recklessly" sign to oncoming traffic.

Maybe I'm just not the same person I was at 25. In fact, some might consider my preparation for Matthew's appointment excessive. "Better to err on the side of caution," I thought to myself. So the day before his appointment, I filled my gas tank, drafted a policy on yellow lights, which are always a problem for me, and went to the baby store that hates me so much they have my name listed under toxins, to buy a car seat appropriate for an 18-month-old.

They really hate me. I constantly ask questions. I still don't understand the difference between sleepwear and playwear. I'm one of the few customers who hasn't memorized Penelope Leach's book on child care, and I need at least two identical opinions before I make a decision. When they see me coming, they take off their uniform jackets and name tags and pretend they're shoppers. Fortunately, I know their faces.

After spending an hour familiarizing myself with every car seat made, then seeking concurrence with another salesperson, I left with the Rolls-Royce of car seats. It has at least 47 buckles and stainproof upholstery and can be purchased with a low-interest-rate loan. It is rated the safest car seat available until the Office of Consumer Affairs recalls it, which probably will be sometime in the next six months.

From there, I made several stops, one at the Office of Consumer Affairs to make sure the seat was installed properly. The fire department, my first stop, won't check car seats anymore. They decided it was too serious a liability, which is absolute proof to me that driving to the pediatrician is definitely not something people with children even should do anymore.

But I was doing it because my daughter asked, and I really, really wanted to be the best grandparent. That meant I needed to practice. So the day before his appointment, I backed out of my garage with my new baby seat in the back of my car and pretended I was driving Matt to the pediatrician.

My immediate goal was to find a route that would require only right turns. I was successful with one exception. The only way to avoid the first left turn was to take a 65-mile trip around the Beltway.

The doctor's office is three blocks from my house.

I'm not the only grandparent who hates to drive with a baby in the back seat. My friend Carol says she'll drive with her granddaughter only when it's 70 degrees, sunny, not rush hour, for a distance of less than three miles on straight roads with no intersections.

I made it to the doctor's and back with Matt, an accomplishment I rank right up there with completing my master's degree in engineering. My left turn was successful. I parked perfectly. My real problem was getting him in and out of the dot-com-generation baby seat, a baby seat almost as complicated as the Metro fare-card system.

The first time I connected the straps, I got into the driver's seat, turned around and found Matt standing up in the back seat next to the other window. The next effort proved equally unsuccessful. I changed the position of the shoulder straps; I tightened the strap across his lap and challenged him to slide out under the lap belts onto the floor. There he was, smiling over my shoulder by the time I got back into the driver's seat. Then I remembered: This is a five-point harness. I was missing a point. I found the missing strap, secured Matt and off we went.

Fortunately, it was a routine checkup. Everything was fine. He's a little short, but so is his mother. The doctor's office was near a mall, so we had lunch out, went to a toy store and returned home, victors of a wonderful day together. When my daughter asked me if I had any trouble taking Matt, I answered: "Of course not. After all, I drove you and your sisters around all the time."

Ellen Rosenthal is the grandmother of 18-month-old Matthew. Her column will appear the first Tuesday of each month. Send any comments and suggestions to her by mail to PO Box 60701, Potomac, Md. 20859; or by e-mail (grandtales@aol.com).

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