I never considered myself a particularly tense driver.  I mean, I’m not one of those people sprawled in a barcalounger, one hand draped across the wheel while the other holds a soda, but I’m not hunched over the wheel like a hawk on the hunt either.

I like to think I maintain a healthy balance between jamming out to tunes and appropriate traffic vigilance.

Kids have a way of screwing with your driving mojo, though.  Over the years, in one way or another, T-man and Bear have really thrown me off my game.

While they were babies at least 60% of my brain was busy trying to decipher sounds from the rear facing car seat.  With no helpful visual cues (although that didn’t stop me from checking the rearview mirror constantly) I had to guess if that was a hungry cry, a “something’s pinching me” whimper, or gas.  As far as I’m concerned, infants in rear facing car seats should be listed right up there with texting as major distractions on the road.

Once T-man and Bear were more verbal it was a combination of demanding my attention (Look at that, mommy!  Did you see that sign?  There’s a blue car.  Look at the horse!) and the amount of time I spent contorted, one hand steering while the other arm was twisted behind me to pass them snacks.  Those were the years I lived with a semi-permanent shoulder cramp.

The kids are older now and much more self-sufficient.  No more cry deciphering or snack distribution for me, so I should be free to focus on the road, right?  Sure.  Depending on the week.  And time of day.  And the phase of the moon, too.

When hormones are in check and the stars are aligned, all is copacetic in the back seat.  T-man and Bear are giggling, talking, telling me stories and whatnot…but when things are off, they’re really really off.  And I’ve found I’m not exactly great at blocking out annoying sounds from the back.  (And by “annoying” I mean anything from bickering to Tone to you’re-in-my-space arguments.)  If I’m anywhere in the KNOCK IT OFF RIGHT THIS MINUTE zone then I’m, at best, giving the road half my attention.  Maybe.

These days there’s one other way the kids are messing with my mojo…one that doesn’t bother BrightSide in the slightest but drives me to distraction.  This would be the ongoing JEEP!! and PUNCH BUGGY!! competition.

This game begins bright and early.  When the kids leave for school at 7:30am they’re already on hyper alert.  You see, they keep a running tally of who spots the most Jeeps and Punch Buggies (aka VW Bugs) each day.  (And by “spot,” I mean be the first to shout JEEP! or PUNCH BUGGY! at the top of their lungs.)  Somehow these kids who can’t remember to unpack their lunch boxes after school can recall exactly how many of these gems they spotted in the morning plus how many negative points a sibling accrued.

That’s right, you can earn negative points in this game.  There are a slew of rules they’ve formulated over time in order to make the game more (ahem) “fair”: no calling parked vehicles.  Someone must actually be in the car with the engine running.  No calling cars on the interstate (an important safety concession), but you can call a car you see passing by on the interstate if you happen to be driving underneath or approaching the on ramp.  And if you call out Jeep or Punch Buggy by mistake you end up with a negative point.

And those are just the rules I remember.  There could be a dozen more by now for all I know.

As you can probably tell, this game can become rather heated depending on the emotional state of the participants.  On a good day it’s all kicks and giggles, with one kid congratulating the other for spotting so many in a day.  But on a bad day?  It can be bickering and fussing and I called it first and NO, YOU DIDN’T.  Let’s just say the game has been banned in my car when the atmosphere got a little too intense for my liking.

Putting all that aside, though, I have to admit I hate this game even when the kids are in a good mood.  Why?  Because I find it highly distracting when I’m driving 50 mph and someone shouts JEEP!!! at the top of their lungs.

It happens whenever, wherever.  We’ll be having a normal conversation about school or friends or recess or the bus ride home and I’ll literally be MID-SENTENCE when one of those kids will shout out.

I actually jerked my steering wheel a little the first few times it happened, and I wanted to shout back, “Dude!  Reflexes!”  It’s like shouting FIRE! in a building and expecting everyone to calmly say, “Oh, yes, I see that there is a fire, perhaps we should walk outside now.”

Nope.  You unexpectedly scream something behind me and I tend to jump out of my skin.  Does this make me a tense driver?  I don’t think so.  I just think it makes me a driver who doesn’t want anyone shouting abruptly in the car unless there’s, you know, blood or some other sort of emergency.  Unless there’s a vehicle suddenly swerving into my lane, I just can’t think of a situation where shouting JEEP! would qualify.

One guess who started this insanity.

I’ll never know what would possess BrightSide to invent a car game that involves startling outbursts from the backseat.  One with endlessly changing rules, furious arguments over daily tallies, and debates over whether that silver car counts.

Sigh.  Daddy’s always the fun one.