My love affair with a Highlander

They say a man’s home is his castle, but in the sleepy suburbs of America, that honor is reserved for his car.

My first car was a cheap but perky little Mazda Protégé in which, unencumbered by kids and safety issues, I zipped up and down I-680 at 100 miles an hour. That car reflected our lives at the time – simple, easy to maintain and without any frills – a perfect complement to our bare-bones apartment living, when any purchases over 20 dollars had to be approved by the spouse.

Alas. Having kids forces us to grow up and I soon had to graduate to a Ford Explorer – not perhaps the safest choice while traveling with infants – but the horror of being a minivan mom was just too ghastly to be borne. The SUV fit our need for space, having only one kid at the time, and the height made it convenient to load and unload diaper bags, car seats, strollers, grandparents… On solo trips I would test the turning radius and the flip-over tendencies of the vehicle, having consulted the lifeline on my palm on the riskiness of the venture.

Car ownership reached a nadir with the birth of the second child when we succumbed to the lush gluttony of the Honda Odyssey, a small house on wheels. Tricked out with a 6-disc CD changer, a back seat DVD player and a girth that allowed unfettered access to every seat , all it needed was a bathroom to call it home. In fact, most days, it was home, with nooks and crannies filled with food, drink, movies and books. When we parked in the garage, the kids would be reluctant to come out till nature called.

A tendency towards serial monogamy, unfortunately having to be sublimated in personal life, was allowed free rein as I ditched the motherly Odyssey for my latest car, the Toyota Highlander. With interiors designed along the lines of the stylish Lexus, the compact SUV is a joy to drive. All the bells and whistles are positioned perfectly inside; creating a synergy between car and driver that makes it a pleasure to haul the kids to soccer, TT, dance and piano. So it gets 20 miles to the gallon. Nobody’s perfect.

Blackberries and Bluetooth have made workstations out of our 4 wheelers. But there is another reason why we Americans love our cars. An SC Johnson Parent Taxi Survey found that 90% of parents spent 20 hours a week or more with their kids in the car. This kind of quality time with the kids is priceless. On trips to school and activities, my kids have been a captive audience as I question them about their studies, social interactions, fears and worries. I have discussions of philosophy with my son, explain morality to my daughter, eavesdrop as they bridge the 6 year gap between them with silly conversations. On the rare occasions when I am alone, I play my favorite music to relax  or educate myself with public radio. Car time can also be for catching up on reading with audio books and learning a foreign language through tapes.

The love affair we have with our cars would not be possible without the network of roads that borders on the magical to anyone arriving from India. In such calm seas, we are pilots of our little ships, in control of a small part of our day and our lives.

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