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Nina In New York: Baby On Board, So Back Off

Brake lights illuminated as traffic backs up at a toll plaza. (credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Brake lights illuminated as traffic backs up at a toll plaza. (credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

A lighthearted look at news, events, culture and everyday life in New York. The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.
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By Nina Pajak

Who’s that driver over there?

It’s me! It’s me!

Who’s that surprisingly young woman behind the wheel of an 11-year-old mid-size sedan going 25 mph across the Whitestone Bridge?

It’s me! It’s me!

Yes, that’s right. That person coming to a full stop at the stop sign even when there’s no one else around? That’s me. The car going the reduced speed limit in a construction zone, despite no one else doing so? Me. That person you angrily pass because she let someone in instead of speeding up when she saw them coming? That’s me, too.

I am the world’s safest driver. And you probably want to kill me.

Frankly, driving has never been my strongest suit. When I was young, I wasn’t a speed demon, but I was your average teenager with a brand new license and an underdeveloped sense of my own mortality. However as I got older, I developed a pretty hearty fear of getting into an accident. This fear only intensified as time went on, so by the time I made the move to Manhattan I was more than happy to retire my wheels.

Now that I find myself in an outer borough with ample parking and a child who requires wintertime entertainment beyond our living room, necessity demands that I be back on the road. But now instead of just being afraid of getting into a wreck myself, I worry about the baby sitting in the backseat. And I’m no longer worried about my own fatal error, I’m worried about the exponential mistakes that could be made by all the other drivers around me, whose actions I can’t even remotely control or predict. As I began driving with the baby, images of fiery crashes and cars soaring off overpasses filled my head. I read every horrific news article I could find concerning car accidents. I came up with reasons and workarounds that meant I didn’t have to go places in the car by myself. We could walk to the doctor. We could wait until the weekend to run our errands, when daddy would be home.

But then the cold hit, and I started to lose my crap (as previously discussed). And the baby got older, as babies are wont to do, and it became clear that our little world was just too little for her. And for what? So I started by taking more trips out to the suburbs to visit family and friends, and now we’re in and out of Manhattan like a couple of pros. And what’s the trick? How can I suddenly feel okay with all of this?

I drive like an 85 year old woman. Minus the terrible vision and potential for disorientation.

Driving like the biggest dweeb on the road was initially stressful, as I had to contend with more aggressive drivers honking at me and passing me in that furious way. But once I became comfortable with being the only person going the speed limit, all of that tension melted away. “Pass me!” I yell generously as I putter along. “Be my guest! Who’s stopping you,” I laugh to myself as they whizz by, no doubt irritated and happy to be rid of me.

I feel a little solidarity when I see someone else cruising at 55 mph with a “Baby on Board” sticker displayed in their rear window. I’d always thought those were obnoxious, as though putting one in your car was like demanding that the whole world be mindful of your spectacular child. “WATCH OUT FOR US, WE HAVE A CHILD AND THEREFORE REQUIRE EXTRA CONSIDERATION IN LIFE AND ON THE ROAD.”

Now, as I find myself wishing I could point to the carseat in the back as someone wings around me huffily, I finally realize that I’d had it backwards. The sticker isn’t to dictate to others around you. It’s saying: “THERE’S A BABY BACK HERE, SO YOU SHOULD KNOW IN ADVANCE THAT I’M GOING TO BE DRIVING REALLY SLOWLY AND LIKE A GIANT NERD. PLEASE FEEL FREE TO AVOID ME AT ALL COSTS.”

If only we could fit that all on a windshield sticker. Actually, my version would read something like this:

“CAUTIOUS PARENT DRIVING. JUST GO AROUND US AND MOVE ON WITH YOUR DAY, YOU PSYCHOTIC @$#%”

Probably we should just stick with “Baby on Board,” I guess. Meh. Typical mass market dilution of the message.

Nina Pajak is a writer living with her husband, daughter and dog in Queens. Connect with Nina on Twitter!