A woman I know once told me not to talk on my cell phone while driving if my kids were in the car with me. The funny thing about it was that she wasn’t cautioning me at all about safety. She had older kids than me. And she said that driving in the car was always the place where her normally reticent children shared their most intimate life stories. She learned about bullies at school, first crushes, and all kinds of fascinating personal philosophies.
Lately I’ve really been working on this. And it’s paying off in spades! Last night, for example, I learned where my ten year old plans to go to college. It’s ASU, by the way, and he plans on only living in a dorm his freshman year because he wants to have a really nice kitchen where he can cook delicious meals. “Mom, did you ever eat uncooked Ramen when you were in college?” he asked me. “I’ve heard that lots of college kids eat that.”
“No, sweetie,” I smiled. “I always made it a point to take 30 seconds and cook the noodles before eating them.” But then, recounting my earlier days, I added, “But they sure were a great value. We used to buy 10 packs for a buck. That could feed you for a week back in the day.”
After discussing his future menu selections, we moved on to intermarriage; he thought it was not the right choice for him since he wants to raise his kids Jewish. Then he told me about a girl who wasn’t terribly kind in his class, his future career aspirations, what his perfect wife would be like, and how disgusting the egg frittata at school was that day.
It was a mixed bag of somewhat scattered thoughts, yearnings, and beliefs. On the more banal matters, I needed to read between the lines and ferret out the deeper truths that lurked within his complex psyche. Like his obsession with how he would ever be able to pay for auto insurance. It reminded me how much of a planner he is and how uncomfortable he is with uncertainty. His focus on having the consummate spouse represented his ever-growing anxiety around making mistakes; a topic we surely need to raise next week at the talking doctor.
I learned an inordinate amount. And by the time we got home, I felt certain that I knew him better. The mere 10 mile trip that could’ve easily been occupied with a phone call to my mom or a quick voicemail message to a friend, had served as a safe haven for a deep and meaningful dialogue. His off-handed sharing about the everyday facts of his life, his worries and future aspirations, had served to open a portal into his soul and I was deeply grateful for having been granted access to this private sanctum.
I’m not deluded enough to think that this kind of sharing will go on forever. I’m painfully aware of what happens to heart-sleeved little boys who all too often grow into “strong, silent” young men. But for now, I’ll stay off the cell phone. I’ll keep asking the questions. And I’ll keep listening, hard, for the truth behind the words, the essence beneath the answers. Because after all, is there anything more important than that?
I enjoyed this post a lot! I’m not a mother but I am an older sister with two brothers who are tough to crack. I’ve found with one of them that the “two hour rule” tends to work… if I sit in a room with him for 2 hours (even if it’s while he’s playing a video game) he will all of a sudden look up from what he’s doing and start talking to me about his life. It’s crazy the things you start finding out!! This post definitely made me laugh because it’s so true.
Hey nice read, I’ve read a couple of your posts. I not a mother either… well I can’t be, being a guy and all… but I like reading your perspective on bringing up children, and other topics. I also get the idea your Jewish, I’m a goy but when I think of Jews I’m reminded of all the great things Yahweh has done through you guys throughout history(Tanakh) and look forward to what Yahweh will do through the Jews in the future… shalom.
Thanks for the reminder to “be there”–especially when you’re with people that you care about! Maybe it’s easier to talk about things in cars because nobody is staring intently at you, yet you have their (almost) full attention. Another easy-to-talk venue I’ve discovered is doing dishes together. It’s brainless work so you’re free to focus whatever is being said, while having the splash of water and the clatter of silverware to fill any awkward silences. It works like a charm to help me reconnect with my out-of-state sister when she comes to visit.
I learned when my daughter was in middle school that the best times to talk was while we were driving. We used to take long “scenic drives”, just for fun, and she’d start to open up. After that, any time she asked if we could go for a drive, I dropped whatever I was doing and off we went, and the less I talked, the more she did. She’s 28 now, and you know what? It still works! Keep driving.