A few years ago a mommy friend of mine, lets call her Janice, purchased a brand-new Toyota Sienna. Complete with an "I'm a Soccer Mom" magnet, this gold colored van had the most luxurious trim package with leather seats, electric remote-controlled everything, and a DVD player for the kids in the backseat.
Standing in the parking lot after girl scouts, I would watch Janice as she would buckle in her four kids, carelessly flick on a video and peacefully pull away in the impenetrable silence of mesmerized children. Perhaps I was a bit envious as I drove home amongst the bickering and incessant whining that accompanies four children crammed into a 1990 MPV (probably the smallest minivan ever!).
Unfortunately our quaint little MPV met its ill-fated demise last fall and we decided to take the $380 per-month plunge into a new van. We went in knowing that we could only afford the very cheapest, most basic trim, and since the DVD combo was a $3000 add on only available in the highest trim, I resigned myself to more driving under the influence of frustration and aggravation due to travel-tired kids.
(Actually, I secretly enjoy our drives together, and traveling affords us more time to talk, play games, and sing together. It really isn't that bad.)
Video entertainment using VCRs was first installed in minivans in the late 90's and factory installed DVD players were released in 2002. Because of this, many kids are growing-up without experiencing the "Are we there yet?" blues, and most parents probably think that is a good thing,
On Friday one of my daughter's teenage swim coaches confided in me that she was nervous about getting her driver's license. She relayed countless horror stories experienced by many of her friends about getting dramatically lost (for example, trying to drive to the mall and ending up in TN). She said that she wasn't too worried though because she never had a DVD player in her parents' car. I asked her if that made a difference and she said "yeah" (as if!).
It seems that a whole generation of driving teenagers are emerging without any sense of direction. The car was always just an extension of the living room, a magical portal that somehow got them from here to there.
On heightened awareness of my kids' directional capabilities, I let them tell me which turns to make to get us home from Huntsville, and with the exception of our three-year-old who still doesn't know left from right, they knew the way perfectly.
(He actually knew the way home too, I just had to look in the rear-view mirror to tell which right his little finger was pointing toward.)
I guess those parents who are now appreciating peaceful driving thanks to a screen in the backseat are really only exchanging it for the peace of knowing that your teenage kids will be able to navigate their own car a few years later.
Perhaps it is just as well, the directionless children who are used to watching Sponge Bob while driving to the grocery store will have no problem watching a GPS direct them to that same grocery store when they are old enough to drive.
**I found the photo above online, none of the children are my kids or kids we know.