I vividly remember when Drew Barrymore played the role of a young mother in a movie called Riding in Cars With Boys and watching her journey with her son throughout two decades as they both grew up. Oftentimes, the conversations between him and her were in the car. Poignant discussions with the rear view mirror providing the eye contact, proof that they were both listening.
Fast forward to my life years later, and I find myself realizing that these conversations are probably the most meaningful to me as a parent. The fifteen to twenty minutes between home and carpool and carpool and home is the best time to be on the same page as my children. Conversations can be as simple as “lunch was terrible!” or “where does an ambulance park at night?” to deeper and harder topics “what is insurance?” or “why was Costco built faster than our new home?”
Together, we are captive audiences and, for now, we are each other’s company before we reach our destination and reality sets back in. I use this time to tell them the day’s schedule if we have after school activities that we need to prepare for. Or maybe my husband and I have date night and kids will have a babysitter and we talk about the plan for that. We also use this time to recite poems that must be said aloud to the class for a grade, or spelling words that are about to be tested.
Sometimes we have this precious time to talk about an incident that happened that day, and words or actions we might use to stop that from happening again. The car ride has become more than the time to hurry up and get to the birthday party, it has become the time that life for kid is revealed.
I read something once that really stuck with me. Don’t ask your child “how was your day?” It’s too general, too vague and the days are long. So instead I start off with, “How was lunch?” Then “anyone absent in class today” (I ask this more for me to see if we have sicknesses within the class!) Then we mosey on to “what did you do at recess?” And without a doubt, the conversation picks up from there: Classes get discussed and a rhythm is set. I dare not ask this when we get home. The moment is over, and there is too much to do.
On longer trips, devices are allowed. But after awhile, I ask them to put it away, and they can play DJ with my phone and we all get a pick of what song we would like to listen to. Jamming with your kids is the best, them teasing you that you don’t know the words not as much! We also have the usual “slugbug” for anytime you see a VW lovebug, and how many water towers we can find? We have the “take a nap” conversation for awhile always met with angst. But if we are very quiet, one or both will doze off. Especially if we have brought blankets and pillows!
The movie also had discussions with other ‘boys” (including the boyfriend). So, let me include my husband. Believe it or not, the time we are in the car together also allows for dialogue and adult conversations. I hear the problems and highlights of his work and vice versa, we share stories from our childhood (yes even after fifteen years of marriage we still have stones left unturned), we make plans for our next vacations, and we may air out some not so fun issues.
I can recall my mom looking at us through the rear view mirror when we were little. I have this image of her moving her eyebrows, eyes that brightened when she smiled, or sometimes death stares. I don’t remember what we spoke (or argued) about but I can still see her eyes looking at me and listening.
Today, I think we post and share about the exclamation points in our kids lives, but these are the quiet commas that we live amongst and I am grateful for it.
I am grateful for that rear view mirror. I am grateful to have two young men who ask me questions, or tell me their concerns, and even tell me what they think about the future. They are 8 and 11 in case you are wondering. A magical age where the outside world is not imposing on them, but their curiosity will prepare them for it.
I will do my part, as a parent, and hopefully one day they will look at their children (or me) through their rearview mirror and continue their chats riding in their cars! Meanwhile, reality is setting in: time for a snack, then homework, then practice your instrument, dinner, shower, and go to bed!