Children’s car seats are a challenging rite of passage… | parenting and parenting

a The single strap is applied to my son’s car seat before the seatbelt is threaded through the two loops and held in place with a satisfying click. At least that’s the theory, as evidenced by the cheerful hieroglyphs adorning the edge of the car seat. I am studying them deeply, perhaps no one has ever studied anything. ‘Arrow straps, or seatbelts?’ I don’t ask anyone in particular. My son is wondering why his father is sweating and swearing two inches away from his own face, as I reach out to him to fiddle with the toggle that has been reset four times.

I have borrowed this car seat from my long-suffering sister Dearbhai, her second such loan in as many years. Both have been excellent contraptions, it’s just that they are rendered troublesome by the technician who installed them. I.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that every commercially available car seat should be different from every other. ‘Different’ is putting it mildly. It’s as if they’re all designed by teams of sane scientists who’ve never seen another child’s car seat and can truly believe that he and she alone invented the concept in the first place. As such, they have tended to settle on a dazzling array of wildly different processes by which the best results should be achieved, all illustrated with diagrams that border on outdoor art.

‘The red arrow means move forward,’ says my brother Dara, drawn to help. He’s done a PhD in car seats, roof racks and all the parenting peripherals I think I’ve never had much joy. I was relieved to see that he was having trouble too until I realized he had to undo the mess I made.

We don’t have our own car seats because neither my wife nor I can drive. We were doing pretty well in both lessons until I stopped because I hate being bad at things, and my wife took over, only to be stopped by the pandemic. Her trial now awaits us later this month — nine months after being booked — so we’re slowly moving toward the reality of becoming parents. There would be many practical benefits to getting around this, but its main boon would be to our egos, as we find ourselves once again begging for proper adults to add seats and take us to places that are pitiful. Looks like we’re teenagers demanding our older siblings pick us up from the local disco. This, we promise, will be the last time like this. It’s my turn once my wife is tempted and I find myself yearning for the impotent fear of driving lessons, at the ritual humiliation of not being able to do anything like that by myself.

Until then, it’s left to my sister Kaoimahe and her partner Eddie to drive us from Norwich to Liverpool, once we’re hooked on this bloody thing. A click echoes, and we’re finally off. A 250-mile journey actually starts with a single leash.

Have you heard that Mamie is dead? by Seamus O’Reilly is out now (Little, Brown, £16.99). £14.78 from GuardianBookshop. buy a copy at

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