Dave Barry

Driven to distraction

(This classic Dave Barry column was originally published Dec. 30, 2001)

One of these days, a police officer is going to pull me over for driving erratically. He will suspect that I am driving while intoxicated, but he will be wrong. In fact, I will be driving while being a little teapot.

I am often a little teapot while driving. This is because when my 20-month-old daughter is in the car, she demands to hear her favorite CD, ''Traditional Children's Songs From Hell.'' At least that's what I call it. It's one of those CDs with those old songs that we are required by federal law to expose our children to, because they connect us with a time when we were a simpler, happier, much stupider nation. Consider ''Old McDonald.'' It starts out fine: ''Old McDonald had a farm.'' But then it goes to ''E-I-E-I-O,'' as though the lyricist had a bunch of extra vowels he needed to get rid of before moving on. Couldn't he have come up with WORDS for the second line? How hard is it to think of a line that rhymes with ''farm''? For example: ''Thresher tore off his left arm.'' Or: ``Slept with six goats to keep warm.''

But ''Old McDonald'' is Handel's ''Messiah'' compared with 'She'll Be Comin' Round the Mountain,'' a song apparently written by somebody with a severe case of attention deficit disorder, as we see by the highly informative first verse: 'She'll be comin' `round the mountain when she comes!

''She'll be comin' `round the mountain when she comes!

''She'll be comin' `round the mountain!

''She'll be comin' `round the mountain!

''She'll be comin' `round the mountain when she comes!''

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: 1. Will she be comin' ''round the mountain? 2. When? I am forced to listen to these brain-shriveling songs constantly when I drive. I'm so used to hearing them that sometimes I'll be halfway to the airport, singing, ``The wheels on the bus go round and round! Round and round! Round and round!'' when suddenly it dawns on me: Sophie is not in the car. I can play my own music, with intelligent lyrics!

(Example: ``I said na, na na na na, na na na na, na na na, na na na, na na na na!'')

The biggest problem with children's songs is that many of them call for actions on the part of the listeners. My daughter, who is very strict, expects everybody to perform these actions. So if we're listening to ''I'm a Little Teapot,'' and she notices that I'm using my arms for some frivolous activity such as steering, she will repeat, ''Daddy do it! Daddy do it!'' until I let go of the wheel and form my teapot handle and my teapot spout. I have discovered that I can, in fact, steer with my forehead, but visibility is a problem.

But the worst song, from a driving standpoint, is ''Where Is Thumbkin?'' This is the one where you sing about, and display one at a time, the various fingers on your hand: Thumbkin, Ring Man, Pointer, etc. As you can imagine, this can create misunderstandings in traffic when your fellow motorists see you holding up Tall Man.

Yes, a small child can get you into trouble, and not just in a car. There is a house in our neighborhood that has a large plaster goose on the front porch. For reasons known only to her, my daughter LOVES this goose. Whenever we walk past it, she toddles up onto the porch and gives it a kiss, while I watch nervously from the sidewalk. Lately she has started insisting, with increasing vehemence, that I also kiss the goose. So one recent Sunday morning -- I am not making this up -- I found myself tiptoeing onto a porch belonging to complete strangers, bending over and kissing their goose. This kind of thing can lead to trouble.

POLICE OFFICER: Hold it right there, mister! Put your hands up and STEP AWAY FROM THAT GOOSE.

ME: You don't understand! I was just --

POLICE OFFICER: Wait a minute. ... You're the same guy I saw holding up Tall Man on the expressway!

But getting arrested is a small price to pay for the joys of parenthood. I know you parents out there agree. You're happy, right? Sure you are! If you're happy, and you know it, clap your hands!

I'd clap with you, but it hurts, with these handcuffs.

(c) Dave Barry

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