Sunday, March 13, 2016

Car Talk

Most mornings, I get up first, shower, dress, make the bed, feed the dog, cut some fruit for my daughter, attempt to wake her up, attempt to wake her up again, and again, and sometimes yet again. In between wake-up trips upstairs, I make her lunch and putter, empty the dishwasher or wipe down the counters.

Meanwhile, my husband gets ready for work and sits in our family room watching the morning news and browsing the Boston Globe on my iPad. (His ability to multi-task borders on AADD; he's been known to have the radio going at the same time. 'Makes my head hurt thinking about it.) The upside of our disparate routines: I don't have to worry about missing something that would matter to me because my husband is an ace curator. He'll pause or rewind to a story that he thinks I'd be interested in, whether that's a piece about theatre, about our town, or a highlight (this year, I should really say a "lowlight") of a political debate.

Earlier this week, he called me in to see something and, while we were waiting, an ad came on for a new Chevy mini-van. It featured "Real kids. Not actors." (a phrase that makes me, as an advertising professional, wary from the start). The children were invited to play a computer game, but — OMG! — there was only one controller. So, a single lucky girl got to play while the other six looked on in pathetic bereavement. "How does it make you feel?" the helpful announcer guy asked them. Not good. (Duh.) But, then he revealed the new Chevrolet Traverse, which has built-in WiFi and can support ... Get this! ... up to seven different devices. Their unscripted (wink, wink, nudge, nudge) responses were unadulterated joy:

"A WiFi car?"

"That's so cool!"

"I could just stay in this car forever."

For the record, I have nothing against Chevrolet. In fact, I used to write ads for them. And, without the time (or, to be honest, the inclination) to research this, I'm assuming that many other makes and models offer similar features. What does bother me is that this is being hailed as such a wonderful thing.

Let's forget about the related issues of childhood obesity, video game violence, and the overscheduling of our kids. As the parent of a teen (and as someone who is soon to be an empty-nester), what bothers me most is all the missed opportunity.

Last weekend, I went with my daughter to the stable so that we could leave directly for Boston, where we had theatre tickets. I know the route by heart; for eight years, I drove her there and back as many as six or seven days a week. But, since she got her license, I've been off the hook. This is a mixed blessing. Yes, the found time has been appreciated, but that hour each day in the car was one of the best times we had to talk. So, I was happy to have a reason to revisit those pre-license times.

On the way (it was early), she was fairly silent. But, as we drove into town after her lesson, she filled me in on all the drama going down with her friends and fellow seniors. Sheesh! Suffice it to say, it was good that the drive was nearly an hour long. And, it was great to be back in the know.

So, my advice to parents of younger kids is this. Yes, I know car trips can be the only time you get any peace and quiet. And, if you have more than one child, your mini-van can become a fight club pretty quickly. But, please, resist the temptation to digitally anesthetize your brood. 

Here are better ways to spend time together in the car:

- Listen to a book on tape or a podcast 
- Share some of your favorite music
- Play a word game or 20 Questions
- Look for out-of-state license plates or sign typos
- Make up stories about people you see
- Take in the sights

Most important, use that time together to talk about what's happening at school, at home, or in the world. 

We're all so busy, and stopping to talk to Mom or Dad is probably low (wicked low) on your kid's list. Especially if a topic is uncomfortable. But, being stuck together in the car is the perfect, low-pressure, chance for meaningful or maybe not-so-meaningful conversation.

As long as they're not distracted by "Monkeys vs. Zombies Road Rage Warfare III."

If you've enjoyed this post, I invite you to order the book Lovin' the Alien here.    

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