A single strap is placed over my son’s car seat before a seatbelt is threaded through two loops and held in place with a satisfying click. At least this is the theory, as evinced by the cheerful hieroglyphics that adorn the car seat’s side. I’m studying them intently, perhaps more intently than anyone has ever studied anything. ‘The arrows are the straps, or the seatbelt?’ I ask no one in particular. My son is wondering why his father is sweating and swearing, two inches from his own face, as I reach past him to fiddle with toggles I’ve reset four times.
I’ve borrowed this car seat from my longsuffering sister Dearbhaile, her second such loan in as many years. Both have been excellent contraptions, it’s just that they’re rendered troublesome by the technician tasked with installing them. Me.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that every commercially available car seat must be different from every other one. ‘Different’ is putting it mildly. It’s like they’re all designed by teams of hermit scientists who have never once seen any other child’s car seat and may indeed believe that they, and they alone, have invented the concept for the first time. Thus, they have contrived to settle on a dazzling array of wildly different processes by which the best results should be achieved, all illustrated with diagrams so inscrutable that they border on outsider art.
‘The red arrows mean forward movement,’ opines my brother Dara, drafted in to help. He has a PhD in car seats, roof racks and all the parenting peripherals I seem never to have gotten much joy out of. I’m relieved to see he too is having trouble until I realise he’s just having to undo the mess I’ve made.
We don’t have a car seat of our own because neither my wife nor I can drive. We were both doing quite well at lessons until I stopped because I hate being bad at things, and my wife took over, only to be stopped by the pandemic. Her test now awaits us at the end of this month – fully nine months after it was booked – so we’re slowly inching to the reality of being driving parents. This will have many practical benefits for getting around, but its main boon will be to our egos, as we find ourselves once more begging for proper adults to connect seats and drive us places, which feels pathetic, as if we’re teenagers demanding our older siblings pick us up from the local disco. This will, we promise, be the last time this happens. Once my wife gets her test it will be my turn and I find myself longing for the impotent horror of driving lessons, over the ritual humiliation of not being able to do any of this by myself.
Until then, it is left to my sister Caoimhe and her partner Eddie to drive us from Norwich to Liverpool, once we get this bloody thing connected. A click resounds, and we’re finally off. A journey of 250 miles truly does begin with a single strap.