I had a light-bulb moment in the parenting game today.
We all know that the home is the hub of family life. When I was growing up the dinner table was that hub more than any other room. For some families it may be the living room, for others it’s the bedroom. You know: the place where you share all those little moments. Funny, sad, serious, and weird.
The light-bulb came today when I realised that there is another place that is definitely a hub. The family car. You know, the limo that ferries everyone around. It shouldn’t be surprising when you think about all the time we spend driving our kids around. It seems to me that more kids are driven to school than when I was younger (most caught the bus or walked). Then there are all the twenty million after school activities and sports our kids partake of. In fact for most parents of school age children there is barely a day free of SOMEWHERE they need to be.
So unless you own a helicopter or can teleport, that means lots of time in the car.
There’s nothing like being in a hurry and stuck in traffic on a hot day with no air conditioning for your kids to decide it’s the perfect moment to learn about the birds and the bees. I’m not kidding. When we moved into our current home I left my kids in their old school since it was on my way to work. It was a good twenty minute drive in the busy mornings and afternoons, worse during the few years that bypasses and bridges were being built. During one such trip, on a day that it took me FIFTY minutes to get home, one of my kids came out with this: “Mum how do you get pregnant?”. Let me remind you it was a scorching hot day, the A/C was busted, I’d been in the car for forty-five minutes, and at that exact moment I was negotiating a busy roundabout. So my instant answer was: “You have sex.” Yes, I’m afraid that it was that blunt.
Then silence. I could practically hear their busy little minds whirring. Followed by this response: “Ewww!!! Mel Gibson has had sex EIGHT TIMES!!!” (Weird but true. We had all just watched an interview with him on Sixty Minutes a few nights before). Then those busy little minds got even busier going through all our family and friends, calculating how many kids they all had. One family we knew had (at that time) the most kids: four. After expressing total disgust that these barbarians had outrageously had sex FOUR TIMES, they then shrieked at me in horror: “Ewww!!! You and Dad have had sex THREE TIMES!!!”. To which I responded: “see how much we love you that we would have sex THREE TIMES just to have you kids!”. They were appropriately grateful and impressed at our sacrifice.
Naturally as soon as they walked in the door once we (finally) made it home they very excitedly shared their earth shattering discovery with their father and grandparents. My husband just looked at me like “wtf is wrong with you? You said that?!”. Yes sirree bob.
Some kids treat the one-on-one time in the car like a confessional. Not for their sins, but for their siblings’. One of my kids uses it as a chance to keep me up to date with all the latest comic book releases and PlayStation games. Another uses the time to make sure I know how deprived they are and exactly what clothes/bags/shoes would remedy that. Time spent in the car has always been like a classroom for my kids. When you cannot turn around and give them your attention is when they suddenly become a bottomless well of impossible questions. Whatever happened to just playing “I Spy” in the car?
When you combine being the driver who can’t turn around with teenagers who will inevitably have their headphones in, you are guaranteed to turn into a shouting maniac. Something like: (to the other child in the back) “hit your brother in the arm to get his attention!”. It can be good for a laugh too. To Mr Headphones: “hey dude, did I ever tell you that you’re adopted?”. Then when all the non-headphone-wearing people start laughing he pulls them out and says “what’s so funny?”. He puts them back in only for us to continue teasing him, keep bursting out laughing, and him eventually losing his shit. Hey, payback can be a bitch sometimes.
Seriously though, I have to say that having teenagers, these car conversations can be invaluable. In a busy noisy house of eight people it can be pretty damn impossible to carve out some quiet (and private) time in which they actually feel like talking to you seriously. So those one-on-one pick-ups and drop-offs to work/school/parties are a great chance to touch base. To really connect and make sure they are doing okay.
Finally, let me share with you exactly what prompted this post. The light-bulb. Today while I was driving, I briefly turned around to see why Mister Four was so quiet.
He wasn’t eating his toe-nails like I thought he was, he informed me that he was actually licking his toes.
As you do.
What are you best car moments?