How Can I Drive in New Jersey and Not Influence my Kids?

I’m mostly serious with this one. I want to be facetious, and there is a little of that in this post, but the subject is a serious one. My wife relayed a story to me. She took the kids to the Amish market a few weeks ago. I was home from work sick and not about to go anywhere. At dinner that night, she told me that Joshua ran into Caleb with the shopping cart, and Caleb said “What where you’re going, idiot!” Note that Caleb is 3, so I should applaud him for his application of this concept however misplaced it may have been.

I’m not aware of calling many other drivers idiots (at least not with my kids in the car). To be honest, the terms I use are far worse. For some reason, New Jersey drivers have some weird mentality that it is better for both you and them to die than to ease up and let you change lanes. These people often get downright hostile when it comes to letting another car in front of them. When I leave work in the afternoon, I always run into somebody who refuses to let me over as I’m merging onto the Walt Whitman bridge. I’ve had several times in my 10 years of living in New Jersey when another car refused to let me merge on the highway. I would be coming up the onramp and another car was in the left lane and we were side by side. I would accelerate, and the other car would match my acceleration. It always seems to happen when there is a tight line of cars following this one person so slowing down and hoping somebody else will let me over isn’t a good option. I once had an ambulance try to run me off the road like that. It was the same ambulance company a family member works for. I should have written down the number, but that family member assures me a person who drives like that probably didn’t last long.

I’ve come to a conclusion about New Jersey drivers. There are two kinds (and then there’s me, because I don’t see myself in this model as it is my model). The first kind of driver in New Jersey is totally oblivious to the fact that there is anybody else on the road besides them. Seriously, they never check blind spots, they never watch for pedestrians (especially at Wal-mart) and they’re often talking on a cell phone (which is illegal to do while driving in New Jersey, although sometimes I think I’m the only resident of New Jersey who knows that). The second kind of New Jersey driver is a word not suitable for a family blog. It’s a hole with a King James Bible word for donkey on the front. And yes, I’m not immune to absorbing some of this aggression. When I travel to a state like Maine where the drivers are less aggressive, my New Jersey-ness starts to show.

The amazing thing about my model is that it doesn’t matter which kind of driver you’re dealing with, as they drive exactly the same. The only difference is that the oblivious ones don’t speed up to keep you from changing lanes; they just get the urge to speed up at the moment you put your turn signal on but they don’t see you because their cell phone is blocking their blind spot.

Incidentally, when my wife was leaving the Amish market on the day I originally started this post, her car almost got totaled by one of these oblivious drivers who was talking on a phone. My wife said she was completely backed out of her parking space, when suddenly another car started backing out rapidly. It was only by throwing her car into drive and jamming the gas to get back into her parking spot that she avoided getting hit. Getting hit would have triggered the air bags, which would probably make repair costs more than a ‘95 Windstar is worth. I think my wife did the right thing.

That brings us back to the original question. I’ve always struggled with this. I’ve tried to teach my boys to not use the word “stupid”, but I’m afraid to tell them not to use it at all. There are some people and some ideas that truly are stupid, and I can’t avoid using the word myself. There is a time and a place to call somebody or something stupid.

To my friends and readers in New Jersey (or states where you imagine the drivers are as aggressive), how do you handle teaching your children the proper use of negative words like “stupid” and “idiot”?

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