By Kristin van Ogtrop
Updated January 22, 2015
SUV parked outside house with roof rack loaded with luggage
Credit: Noel Hendrickson/Getty Images

Like many American families, we spend a fair amount of time in the car in the summer. Middle goes to sleepaway camp, which involves road trips for drop-off, visiting day, and pickup. Our August vacation begins and ends with a gigantic trek to and from New Hampshire, where we arrive just in the nick of time before we all kill each other after 10 hours in the car.

Eldest is now 16 and taller than I am. He also has long, teenage-boy legs. And so, when my husband is driving and I am feeling like a particularly magnanimous mother (which, I must admit, is not always, as the motherhood magnanimity equation looks something like this: hours of sleep + quality of coffee + no squabbling kids = magnanimous mother; you can imagine how often that equation is out of whack), I let him have the front seat. Makes him feel more grown-up and important; allows father/son bonding; lets him control the music; earns me some brownie points that I may be able to use when my plants need watering.

But this past weekend, as we drove three hours home from visiting my parents, I realized that there are tangible benefits to riding in the backseat. It’s easier to nap if I can rest my head against our little guy’s car seat, which is in the middle of the back and has a nice cushioned edge. (Seriously, is there any comfortable way to nap in the front seat? Without carrying a pillow into the car, which is too silly for words?) I can hold the little guy’s hand without reaching back from the front at an awkward angle. And, best of all, it completely eliminates all obsessive attention to my husband’s driving.

Do you ever have passengers in your car who periodically make noises while you are driving? Who gasp when you dare to change lanes, etc.? Well, that didn’t used to be me, but now it is. I don’t know when it started or why it happened. But I have turned into a Very Nervous Passenger. It is annoying, even to myself.

However, as recently discovered, when I am in the backseat and am forced to look out the side window instead of out the front window, there is no gasping. No gripping of the armrest. No life passing before my eyes every seven seconds. It’s magic! It’s better than taking a Xanax. I look out the side window, holding our youngest son’s hand, and I don’t have a care in the world. If you’ve never tried this, I highly recommend it. Whether you have someone else to sit in the front seat in your place or not.

Of course, by the time Eldest starts driving, I may have to be strapped to the roof. Facing backwards.