Life in the DVD Lane

By Jeanne Marie Laskas
Sunday, April 16, 2006

Late for dinner, hungry, mail to read, bills to pay, stuck in traffic, stuck, stuck, stuck, stinky trucks, asphalt, gray sky, stinky stupid commute.

Such was my mood mere seconds ago, before I got in this lane.

The very nice thing about being at a dead stop here, in this lane, is that now I'm behind a minivan with a DVD player, and this afternoon's feature is "Mary Poppins." I love Mary Poppins. Oh, they're all just about to jump inside the sidewalk chalk pictures -- I love this part!

I'm inching closer, practically touching the bumper. I wish the screen were bigger. I wish I could hear the music. I think someone should figure out a way to broadcast the music to other car radios so that when you're in close proximity like this, everyone could enjoy the show.

This is kind of hypocritical. I am not, that is, behaving in a way consistent with a person who in the past has taken a stance on the matter of DVD players in cars. Anti. That's who I decided I'd be. I don't think I put a whole lot of thought into this. I was all "save the children from too much TV." One more place to watch was one place too many, I figured. And I guess I thought it was ridiculous. The kids can't sit back there and come up with some twiddle-the-thumbs activities to keep themselves entertained while they get from one place to the next? They need TV?

Hang on, Dick Van Dyke has just started the penguin sequence. Who does not love the penguin sequence? It's a jolly holiday with Mary, all right. Mary looks delighted, and so, in their own way, do the penguins. This is such fun. Gone are the stinky trucks, the hunger, the late-for-dinner and mail-to-read anxieties. Because it's a jolly holiday with Mary. Mary is my anesthesia. There is nothing wrong with anesthesia.

Reasonable. I am a reasonable person. Listen, I am completely open-minded on the TV-in-the-car issue with respect to long car rides. Because I am not an idiot. Six hours on a turnpike to Grandma's is torture for the car-seat set. Back in my day, we weren't strapped into contraptions restricting our God-given right to lay our heads down on our sisters' laps. These kids today are prisoners in those awful seats. That's why I broke down and got a portable DVD player for those rides. The understanding in our house is that we bring that baby out only for long hauls.

But that's it. That's where I draw the line. Because there's a time for anesthesia, and there's a time for . . . consciousness. I am not ready to surrender completely. I will not be a person who picks up her kids from school and drives home with a Loony Tune drugging the daylights out of them. Because conversation happens in cars. Sure, plenty of it is about whose leg is touching whose, and how gross so-and-so smells or looks. But connection happens in cars. And imagination happens in cars. There is much to be gained from watching the world go by. There are cranky old men selling newspapers on street corners and firefighters asking for donations, and there are women in high heels carrying shopping bags, and men with large bellies and hard hats chewing tobacco and even spitting. There are stories out there, a million stories. If you're glued to Daffy Duck, you miss all those stories, all the acrobatics the mind has to do to keep itself entertained. Right? Right?! Hmm. I seem to be on a high horse here. I wonder if it's worth it. I wonder if the jolly holiday with Mary is simply making me nostalgic for a simpler time, days free of the technological stresses of a postmodern world.

One more thing: raindrops. I can remember as a kid watching so very many raindrops slide and collide into one another and fall with abandon down my car window. This was a major activity of my youth. There was nothing else to look at, so I looked at them. Sometimes the drops fell into teams and raced, and sometimes they became animals or aliens involved in battles. There was the usual accompaniment of the thwap, thwap of the windshield wipers, and in those times I remember feeling safe and happy to be alive in the world.

In the world. Not filtering it out. I want my kids to know and feel comfortable in the regular old, real world -- not escaping it all the time. Right? Right? And if they're tired and cranky in the car after school they should embrace the reality of . . . suffering. Right? Wrong?

Hmm. I see here that Jane and Michael Banks are just getting on the carousel horses that will soon magically break free and romp over the countryside. I love that part. Who does not love that part?

Sadly, or happily, traffic is finally moving, and so my view is getting smaller, and finally I'm forced to pay attention to stinky trucks, asphalt, gray sky, stinky stupid commute. I miss Mary. I don't know. I really don't know what's worth hanging on to at all anymore.

Jeanne Marie Laskas's e-mail address is

© 2006 The Washington Post Company