Tag Archives: parenthood

Dear Auto Insurance, 

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Dear Auto Insurance, 
I’m writing to let you know we’ve given up. We’ve prolonged this as much as we could, but today it happened. 

Our oldest son, Thing 1 (the moniker of which I have assigned to keep him off search engines and college inquiries because his mother –me– has a big mouth and flying typing hands) is all-but officially licensed to drive. I mean, he has completed his courses and he can drive alone and whatnot, but he still has to go before a judge (not because of his mother, me, but because the Commonwealth requires it) to get it all official like. I dig that stand-before-the-judge thing. 

So he can run errands now. And drive himself to guitar lessons. And take his brothers to soccer practice (when that begins again). And pick up take-out, but not Chipotle because of e. coli. And drive to school. And he’s tall enough now to peel his mother, me, off the ceiling from worry about his whereabouts and safety! Isn’t that great? 

And then in eight short months he will be pushing off to college. 
  
Auto Insurance, can you slow things down a little? Maybe just make each day last 36 hours instead of 24?  Here we are, attempting to slow time. 
  
   
   

His first time driving Nigel. 

 When the driving began, when he was ready, last summer. 

 He was so little he fit (and resisted smiling) for the tote bag photo.   

    
I love my son. So very much. I know it’s not your job, Auto Insurance, to protect him, but I just thought I’d put out the request and the energy. The SUV will do its job. 
Now for the big quandary: how to let him go…. 
Thank you. 
    

Missives from the Mat 16 — 10 Pointers (Lessons Learned) for #Teaching #Kids “How” to #Yoga

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Teaching yoga to children was my early passion as a yoga instructor. I began as a volunteer in 2007 at my kids’ elementary school. The PTA was in need of a teacher to take over one of the classes for its “Sixth Grade Electives” program which was a parent-run (and possibly exclusive to our school) endeavor. The concept was simple: give the 6th graders a choice of what to do with 50 minutes of one day a week for eight weeks in the second semester of their final year in elementary school.

The more memorable choices ranged from “journalism” where they would work on stories of interest, to “cake decorating.” Other classes included “fashion design” and “personal finance.” These classes are taught by actual people with businesses, degrees and certifications in the offerings. Yoga was offered after a couple kids aged out of the school and so did their parents and the PTA president at the time knew I was a practitioner with several years’ experience and that I had kids of my own, so natch, I was a fit.

I hemmed and hawed. I wasn’t sure. I was terrified.

Comedian John Mulaney has a great line about why 13-year-olds still terrify him, mostly because they will be able to make fun of you and be extremely accurate. So, that was me; I wasn’t terribly ready to face up to ten 12-year olds.

But my friend the PTA president persisted and I stepped up.

Fast forward several years, more encouragement from my PTA president friend, more volunteering, more experience and here I am: a certified yoga instructor with a bonus specialization in teaching kids.

I’ve been at it, as a paid professional, for almost three years now, and recently got picked up by the local parks department to teach two after-school classes at two different schools.

While I don’t have a degree in education, or teaching certificate, I am a communications professional and I make clear communication — regardless of the age of the participants — an absolute foundation of everything in which I engage.

Other than the absolute requirement that you have a sense of humor and the ability to be mentally flexible, here’s a list of what I’ve gleaned from teaching yoga to kids as a kid’s yoga teacher. It’s meant to help parents and teachers engage with all yoga kids:

  1. Truth. Active children will always be active children; putting them in a yoga class will not impel them to be less active, it will teach them (hopefully, if they are developmentally ready) to learn how to recognize what they are doing. So it’s all a matter of drawing attention to what isn’t “known.” I have adults in my classes who tell me, “I hear you in my head now, ‘belly button gently pulled toward the spine, shoulders back and reaching down toward the hips… release the jaw…’ and I never knew I wasn’t doing that until I heard you tell me to do it…”
  2. Habits. With particularly active kids, it will take time, consistency and patience to have the children understand how to recognize their urges to move, their inability to sit still, and their tendency to act on impulse. One 8-week session of yoga will not do it.
  3. Expectations. Don’t expect yoga to turn your kiddo into a Tibetan Monk. Just as you have your ups and downs, your good days and bad days, so do kids. Sometimes we as parents don’t really see our kids for who they really are. Sometimes we are the stressed-out ones, and they are just being  … kids. Remember children are supposed to be active and curious and lively and spontaneous. Maybe it’s the parent who needs the yoga, to look inward and give himself or herself some mindful breathing and relaxation, maybe the child is just being his or her normal. It’s all relative.
  4. Breath. Metaphors and visualization are CRITICAL to helping children understand the concept of mindful breath, which is the root of yoga. Always with the palms touching (that joins the two halves of the brain from a sensorial / neural standpoint) we begin our conscious breathing. Getting them to close their eyes is NOT important. They are children, remember. Their eyes are part of their experience. They are all about data collection. It’s good — as long as they’re still and aware, it’s all good. For some kids, closing their eyes means they press them together super hard and that creates tension in the face, then the jaw, then the neck… They look so uncomfortable. that’s NOT what we’re going for. I give all the little hints, “lightly touch the tip of your tongue behind your front teeth” but if I told you, an adult to do that, can you be reasonably assured you’re “doing it right”? So much bliss gets lost in details and our need to “do it right.” For kids, I’d rather have them look around or at a fixed spot on the floor and do their breaths than “struggle to meditate.” For some kids, sitting composed, as if about to levitate, and silently in “criss-cross applesauce with namaste hands” comes super naturally.  For those kids in my yoga classes, I use “Smell the flowers” (not “sniff,” because sniffs are short, like bunny breaths) and say “blow the bubbles” (the kinds of bubbles from a bubble wand, not “motor boat” bubbles in a pool). Before we begin, I remind them by asking, “What happens if we blow too hard through the bubble wand?” Invariably, the kids say, “THEY WILL BURST!” and they’re right. So we go with that. As they are blowing their bubbles, as repetitions increase, I ask them to count the number of bubbles forming from the wand… And then I ask them to blow out just one more bubble. … Maybe two more bubbles? Watch them float away as you smell the flowers to blow more bubbles. I’ve begun with a couple new ones too, “smell the warm cookie fresh from the oven … … cool the warm cookie fresh from the oven…” Either way, we’ve got lots of brain activity going on. After about the fifth round of “yoga breaths” I talk about “that floaty, dreamy feeling in the body… Do you feel like a feather drifting in the air? Like a bubble? Do you feel like you’re safe and so calm?” That’s the feeling we are going for, that’s the bliss I’m trying to impart to them. “And by doing your yoga breaths, no matter where you are — if you’re afraid or sad or surprised or mad or even super happy, mindfully using your yoga breaths will help you feel floaty like a feather…” I say this a lot, during class, but most of all during “savasana” which is our “yoga rest” time.  Using that word that we see so much of these days: “mindfully,” is critical in helping all of us make the link between a sensation (state of mind) and breath (the body doing something it does anyway but now doing it consciously). Getting any of us to slow down our breathing and notice that floaty feeling is the magic of yoga and mindfulness.
  5. Boundaries. Lots of kids in all my classes talk about their stresses. STRESS? FOR A KID?! Man, as adults in this world, we have got to get our stuff together. No child should even KNOW that the word “STRESS” exists. Are we foisting our stuff on to them? We need to save our stories about being backstabbed by a friend, or tales of woe from the office, or the latest headlines for our peer groups. We would all do better to be more mindful of keeping the flow of information from the kids up to us. Goodness knows we don’t want to know everything President Obama knows, do we? No. Say no to that. So let the kids be kids. Answer their questions in a simple way. I have a band-aid on my face from recent Mohs surgery to remove a basal cell from my cheek. All the kids asked about it, and I said as simply as I could: “I have a cut on my face that a doctor gave me to take a boo-boo off my face. So the doctor fixed everything and I’m ok.” Inevitably the next question was, “How did you get the boo-boo?” So I said, “I believe I got it because I didn’t wear sunscreen. So when your Mommy or Daddy wants you to wear sunscreen, you need to let them put it on you.” And then lots of conversations started about sunscreen, relatives who are doctors, going to the pool, swimsuits, beach towels, which beach they love, seeing dolphins, then then I steered that into doing dolphin pose and we were somehow back on plan.
  6. Sharing. One day after playing a particularly arduous game of “rainbow tunnel” I asked the kids to sit on a line in the gym and slow down their breathing by counting the bubbles we were blowing. When they were calm, I asked if anyone had any questions. One asked, “Why do we do yoga?” And I was about to answer, but I paused and let a kiddo answer. It was amazing. The responder said, “because it’s good for us, to learn about ourselves.” Yeah. I couldn’t have answered it that way. I would’ve said “for flexibility” or “for balance”  (which were amongst some of the children’s answers) but I was really not at all prepared for that answer. So sharing time in the yoga circle is really important because it builds empathy, peer recognition and mirroring. One of them answered, “for stress” and then the sharing really began. Some kids talk about: their bigger siblings heading off to college; hearing parents talking about money; parents traveling and the kids feeling like they are having too much put upon them by the babysitter when the parents do travel. (One actually said, “I get scared too when my parents leave, I want the babysitter to take care of me, not just ask me to help out.” I encouraged that child to talk to his parents before they travel.) Some speak about their siblings’ lack of boundaries and physical altercations with their siblings or school mates and how doing their “yoga breaths”(flowers and bubbles) helps them so much. Other kids talk about classmates, even in the yoga classes, who are domineering, interruptive, and make them feel small. Other kids talk about going up to their rooms and doing yoga breathing when their baby sibling is throwing a tantrum.
  7. Feelings. Let the kids talk about their feelings — so often we want the kids to “relax,””get over it,” and “move on.” As an adult, you take a pause for a second with me, breathe in, and relate: How annoyed and condescended to do YOU feel when someone tells you to move on or to get over it? Do you feel rushed, unheard, dismissed, insignificant? So might your kid. The point is, we all have feelings and feelings are just sensations. Sensations are fleeting. Sometimes we get stuck in a rut, but even those can pass. The sooner we can acknowledge and safely allow anyone’s feelings, the sooner we can process them. I’ve had situations in my classes where one child feels diminished or put-upon by another child. I stop things almost as soon as I can, I actually get down to their eye level and say “namaste” to the child and we talk about it. There is real healing going on during those moments: the perceived brusque child is NOT chastised, but rather has a moment to step back and explain herself and the offended child has a moment to hear and feel heard. Sometimes we just bump into each other during a rousing game of “musical mats” (The. Best. Game. Ever.). We always end a quick chat with a namaste to the group and go back to what we were doing. The namaste to me, is like the wave of thanks in traffic when someone lets you in a lane or you let someone in ahead of you. It’s just a kindness — a pause, a moment to simply acknowledge each other. Too much of that, our seeing of one another, is missing these days.
  8. Engage. Just like you like to be asked about your day and you like to hear about your kid’s day, asking about something specific, like yoga is no different. Ask open-ended questions and I get it that some parents might not know what to ask. So here are some ideas: Q: Did you play any games today? Q: Can you show me how to do “downward dog”? Q: How do you do a yoga breath? Q: What does “namaste” mean? (I tell the kids that it means “I am good and I see that you are good too.”) Q: Did you read a story in yoga? What was it about?  If you have a kiddo in a class I teach, ask about: “Teddy Dog” or “musical mats” or “the cricket during yoga nap” or the “thumb piano” or “Jacob’s ladder” or the “balancing birds” or the “sneezing giraffe toy” or what about when we play “super kids” and the things we rescue when we put on our scarves. Ask them what we do during “cat” and “cow” pose (it’s not quiet). Have them show you how to sit in “namaste” or ask them to teach you how to “smell the flowers and blow the bubbles…”
  9. Presence. Give yourself a gift and really listen to him when he answers you. Give her your full attention, even if it’s for five minutes. Let him teach you. Let her show you. Do the pose with your child. If you want to meditate with your child or have her sit with you in a few minutes of quiet, I recommend you light a candle and have her focus on the flame with you. There’s something about the animation of the flame, the unpredictability of it all that keeps everyone entranced. I am not permitted to light a candle during my in-school classes for obvious reasons. I’m repeating because it’s worthy: So when you ask, make sure you’re really able to listen without interrupting; sometimes these concepts are hard for a child to impart to an adult.
  10. Affirm. Back to point number 1: You Must See Your Child Exactly As  Your Child Is. If she really doesn’t like yoga, I’m not insulted. Put her in Tae Kwon Do, or dance. I know I’m bringing my A Game each time we meet. I’m naturally very observant, and as a mother, I know I have to be ready to shift gears in a microsecond. As a teacher, I do shift gears because all it takes is one kiddo to divert the “plan” of class: Say one kiddo is acting like a bumble bee and no one else is, but that one bee won’t stop buzzing. In a traditional classroom, that bee is neutralized, told to sit down and stop buzzing. Good luck with that. In yoga, that bee is “followed”: we will all start buzzing and it’s great. After a minute or two, when I see some kids slow down, we stop buzzing and put our hands on our hearts and feel our lungs eventually slow down from all their amazing work of making us busy bees. Affirming someone’s higher energy gets all the “willies” out and we have a great time. I’ve started classes with two minutes of full-on laughing or 30 “mountain climbers” (which are now being requested, so we’ve got some budding Cross-Fitters out there…) or being “washing machines” (seated in criss-cross applesauce with cactus arms up and twisting side to side very quickly with the breath) to wash our hoodies. If the kids are still active, we put the hoodies in the “dryer” and we tumble our arms as we bow up and down and then we check the dryer to put on our nice warm dry hoodie.

By no means is this an exhaustive list. It’s just my top 10; many other ways are helpful for creating presence with your little yogi. I love to teach kids, they are the best teachers: they show me that even a “grown” woman is a big kid at times… and that it’s nice to not have all the answers.

Thank you and namaste. Especially to that PTA president and those first kids (who are now sophomores in college!) all those years ago…

 

 

Staying in My Lane, The Gift of “xo, Mom”

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Last weekend, my eldest and I drove off to my home state, New York, to tour Rochester Institute of Technology. He is a high school senior, and swinging by Rochester from my cousin’s house in Buffalo, where I grew up, was really no big deal. Except that it was.

My son, as it turns out, loved the school. It’s eight hours away by car.

“We really haven’t looked at any bad schools, Mom, so, it would figure that RIT would be great too.”

Astute. It’s a goal of mine to not waste any time and show him any “bad” schools… I mean, who would do that?

Watching him grow up, is a mixed bag.

I find it hard to stay in my lane.

I find myself channeling my first and best therapist ever, Cooke: “What would Cooke say about this? How would Cooke talk to me about things like this…? How would he phrase what I want to get to the heart of, but not sound like the gestapo?” and most importantly, “How would Cooke help me feel that what he’s inquiring about is really about the person on the couch rather than the person on the chair asking the person on the couch?”

Just when I find myself off the couch, I find myself sitting in the chair across from the couch.

Let me be clear: my son is not in need of a couch; I’m simply stating that when I engage with someone these days, I am finding that I still need to get the hell out of their lane and stay in my own: not make anything they’re saying about me. Keep the streams uncrossed.

It’s hard.

My son is embarking on new chapters and it has nothing to do with me.

Keeping these posts, these essays relevant to him, because he is a human on this planet, makes for interesting story telling, but keeping these posts about me and my growth and not divulging too much about him and his brothers or his father or anyone else, is always my goal. I have to sit back, read and then ask about the relevance of content as my own editor and do my best to ensure the posts are mostly expressive of my seat and perspective in the shared experiences.

It’s hard to not feel like a hopeless narcissist though when I find myself writing in the pathetic bathos tense…

It’s a fine line, a narrow lane.

It’s nearly impossible to relate to life as a mother, a caring person on this planet and an empathetic person without relating to others. So I find myself softening the crayon strokes as I near the edges of what I’m coloring.

Given the alignment of American tradition / history, he will be gone and in some dorm in ten months and I will have to absolutely let go, as he turns from his gentle wave goodbye as I turn my body forward from craning over the back seats and pressing my face against the tailgate window only to leave him there. Maybe I will put his “Momo” — a stuffed baby cow he was given as a toy when he was born (I took Momo to Vegas with me) into a sock and he will find her and smile.

Live in the moment. He’s still home. Breathe. 

I write about him more than the other two boys these days because he has a lot going on. He’s not more important, he’s not more valuable.

He’s my first. He’s my first true teacher of humility, of the dangers of narcissistic extension, of fear and its sneaky cousins: denial and self-sabotage.

Last week when we were in Buffalo, my cousin threw me a birthday party. I’m 48 now. My life is more than half over, as I have no intentions of living to 100, drooling, having my kids wipe my undercarriage and repeatedly asking people to repeat themselves. Those are my intentions… we will see what fate delivers, always, of course.

At the party, I was speaking to someone about age, having kids and the biggest gift of all, the true honor and privilege it is to write, “xo, Mom” at the end of a quick note or text.

I said, “If you were to tell me 25 years ago that I were going to be married, with three sons and everything else I’ve been blessed with, I’dve told you to walk. Writing ‘xo, Mom’ on a note has been my greatest honor ever; words fail to express the journey and its gifts wrapped in lessons.”

So I see him, with his hairy man legs and hear his deep voice and his sharp observations, and words come back to me that a friend recently said of her own experiences watching her son grow up: “Suddenly, there is another man in your house. The step is heavier, the pace is slower, the tone more deliberate and the entire vibe doesn’t so much change because he’s not a ‘man’; he’s your kid who likely needs to tie his shoe or tuck in his shirt to you, but there he is nonetheless: a man.”

And you’re that much older.

So the adjustment must be made. I guess it’s only natural to still treat your child like a child, but sooner or later, you have to look at them as they have always been: separate and individual and capable of their own triumphs and disasters and no matter how deep the desire to meddle, parents can only set up their children for coping with the consequences of their choices. We can’t do anything else… ever.

And it sucks, I think.

We can’t make people be nice to them and see them for the fantastic people we believe them to be. We also can’t be so blind to their humanity that we deny their flaws. That’s the worst thing we can do: pretend they are perfect.

So, as my friend continued about her own college drop-off experience, “I heard the landing gear lock in when the jet cleared the runway, and all I could do was breathe and try to deal with the onslaught of doubts: Eighteen years… did we hug enough? Did I speak kindly enough? Was I patient enough? Did I tell him ‘I love you’ enough? Did I play enough with him under the dining room table? Did we have enough heart-to-heart talks? Did I show him how his choices affect him? Did I tell him enough about the dangers of peer pressure? …”

And I hear my own thoughts compete with hers, Did I instruct him about changing a tire? What about the allure of self-pity and trap falls of despair? About the value of hard lessons? Have I taught him about resilience? Egad! Does he even know how to cut an apple? Make lasagna? HE DOESN’T KNOW HOW TO MAKE LASAGNA!!! I’VE BEEN AFTER HIM FOR YEARS TO MAKE LASAGNA WITH ME…sauce noodle goo … sauce noodle goo …

I still have time. I know he’s going to really want to spend time with me now… at 17. There’s nothing cooler than spending the weekend with your mom while she teaches you how to make lasagna. I know that’s at the top of his list of things to do before heading off to wherever is next.

Can you imagine…?

While we were in Buffalo, he went off for a walk with his cousins. Soon after that, the cake came out and it was time to sing to me.

But I knew he was out.

I was at an impasse… Do I call him back? Do I interrupt his “me time” for my “me” time?

I felt strongly that I knew what my mother would do: she would interrupt him. She would call him in to gather round her with the upcoming generation and venerate her with song.

I decided to wait a few more moments to see if he would come in on his own.

He didn’t.

So I did what I thought was only fair. I decided to let him know, because in my own twisted (yet I’m working to untwist it) and fearful mind, I would have thrust at my mother also a vengeance that she purposely didn’t tell me so that she could thrust guilt at me and I could summarily thrust shame at myself:

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So while I sat there, letting everyone sing to me, which was really nice an’ all, I was quite aware of his absence. And I was aware of my awareness, so I took a breath and let it all go.

And at some point, as aware we are of our children’s maturity and individuation, we must also allow our parents their past and realize that we are our own separate adults now and that they don’t have reign over us anymore, for good. That we don’t have much time left, even in the best of circumstances to live our lives. So, yeah… pull up our own bootstraps.

He came in later, and after everyone was gone, he sang “Happy Birthday” to me all alone. He sang every verse. Even the “dear Mommy” part, looking at me right into my green welling-up eyes and smiling, completely void of any irony, weirdness, or self-consciousness.

“… happy birthday to youuuuuuuu…”

And I sighed, hugged him deeply, almost cravenly, and I softly wept a little because he’s so sweet, and thought to myself, “Just one more year…”

Nope.

This is all we get.

Note to self: stash Momo in a sock.

Thank you.

Sitting Shotgun — #Student #Drivers and the #Zen Pursuit of the #Mindfully Bitten Tongue

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Despite my best intentions, I have ignored my writing ambitions. My life is no more complicated than usual, it’s just that right now, attending to my eldest is sincerely, a matter of life and death.

Is this a magnet of hate and assholes or a magnet of empathy and patience? I wavered on getting this; naturally projecting my hope for self-awareness and awareness by others onto them. So far, it has been mostly encouraging. But there are assholes.

Is this a magnet of hate and assholes or a magnet of empathy and patience?
I wavered on getting this; naturally projecting my hope for self-awareness and awareness by others onto them. So far, it has been mostly encouraging. But there are assholes.

He is learning to drive.

I am supposed to be the teacher.

I find, true to my form, that I am also a student.

It all started out manageable enough in May. Maybe June. He is older than most kids getting their permits and he’s been very good to himself: he hasn’t rushed this at all, and for that I am eternally grateful. Living where we do, outside Washington, DC, endeavoring to turn left is akin to thrill seeking.

Drive in a Driveway, Park in a Parkway

I gave him the keys to our MassiveMobile, a 2-ton, 2004 Toyota Sequoia, 4WD SUV. In its defense, it’s smaller than a Chevy Suburban… I mean, those things are huge. (I like to skate the thin ice when judging others…), and we sat in the driveway for about 20 minutes (yes…) as he learned to shift in and out of gears and release the brake, roll the vehicle, stop the vehicle and depress the accelerator to get the vehicle back into position. We didn’t even touch “turning the steering wheel” until about 10 minutes in.

I gave only pointers and tips. No judgements. I put on my yoga teacher personae and imagined myself as Jesus or Buddha, gently querying, “What would it be like if you sat up a little taller, took a deep breath, softened your jaw, and considered using the brake before stripping the transmission and gunning the engine only to stand on the brake within five seconds in this confined space of 20 feet by 30 feet?”

After 20 minutes, he was done. I patted him on the back and he rolled up the windows and turned off the engine. Reminiscent of a scene in a Disney movie after a witch departs, the local fauna returned to its natural curiosities: squirrels dashed from branch to branch, birds hopped along the roadways, that creepy-looking famished coyote tip-toed through the fence slats.

“Any comments? Questions for me?” I asked, hopeful for what I still don’t know.

“It sure is responsive, that car. I mean, it’s massive and knowing what I do about physics, it takes a lot of energy to move AND stop it. It’s sensitive and just hanging out in the driveway going back and forth, trying to land smoothly on the R or the D is a lot,” he said. “I’m baked.”

His cheeks were a little flushed, which is his natural complexion, but I could tell his brain was tired, it affected his body: he looked like he does after a playing a tough guitar piece again and again.

To me, that counted: that was 20 minutes behind the wheel, so I told him to add it to his phone app.

We did that drill about three five more times, at his request, adding the steering wheel and more square footage to include going up and down our little private driveway as the incidences went on. He wanted 20 hours by the time school started. But he also wanted to drive every other day.

It gets boring and true to human nature, our imaginations and ambitions crave more, want growth. I knew this was a good sign.

But for whom?

Soon we ambled over to the local elementary school. It being summer, no one was there except the custodians and maybe a couple administrators. I wasn’t ready for him to drive to the school, because doing so requires driving in a dedicated right lane (I see now how white-knuckled I was about it all, but I also think it was appropriate, these roads are really crazy here) for about 300 feet with traffic to the immediate left easily doing 50 mph. So I shuttled us there.

To me, being a “teacher” means being honest with yourself and hopefully catching yourself in moments of hypocrisy, those “do as I say, not as I do” episodes. As teachers, parents, humans, we have to be willing to change (become a student) when we are forced to eat our own dog food.

What?

I am human. Ergo, I am a hypocrite.

People don’t take a breath before they start the car. We are so automatic. I wonder what would happen if before resuming from every break or red light or stop sign that we would remind ourselves: Driving is a matter of life and death.

Around here, we are surrounded by entitled kids driving Mommy’s BMW X5 or Daddy’s Tesla, maybe even their own. Or worse: kids who are imagining that the 12-year-old Honda Civic with bald tires, blown shocks and hazy headlights are actually six-month-old Ferraris.

It being a D.C. suburb means we are also surrounded by immigrants, who are lovely people, but who likely learned to drive never, and have somehow sifted through the system of checks and balances that naive people like myself entrust to the audacious system of mutual road safety. And then there are moms, people just like I am. Distracted, breathless and barreling down the roads, sometimes not at all remembering how we got to the pasta aisle at Safeway, and not being able to find the car in the lot, yet somehow being mindful / guilt-ridden and programmed enough to bring our enviroBags to checkout.

I try not to say to him, “Everything you do on the road today can either help or hinder someone else,” even though I really want to. I try to say it to myself and then somehow synthesize it into a less Buddha-bullshit / more YouTube teenage way, in 140 or less characters.

dammit. over by seven characters. back to the editing room.

dammit. over by seven characters. back to the editing room.

I wish there was Siri in our car. Or some sort of rational, onboard computer voice, in a soothing maternal tone that says things like, “I wonder what it would be like if you decided to brake maybe NOW instead of your typical two seconds after now…”

When my mother was alive, I distinctly recall her making all sorts of “eeeeilllllllluughhhhh” noises when my father or brother (or likely myself) would take a turn aggressively or take a turn at all. My mother was a horrid driver. To punish or nauseate my children (I almost got Dad to york about two weeks ago in fact), I like to step back in time by starting “Driving like Mimi.”

My youngest loves it; it’s like an amusement park ride for him. But he’s only 11 and he can’t see much beyond the dashboard or the hood of the SUV because he’s still quite wee. My older kids beg me to stop. So does my husband, and then a fortnight ago, my dad joined in the chorus. But it was the two-year anniversary of her death, and I felt it was a nice little nod to her… especially because I believe my father rode with her driving only a handful of times.

I digress.

After the elementary school parking lot in which I would intentionally panic about an imaginary squirrel or soccer ball or toddler or zombie entering the roadway (our pact was to gun it on the zombie), which we conquered five times in 45-miunute chunks, he was ready to take that dedicated right lane and merge into the speeding left lane traffic for another 200 feet and turn right onto out street.

We were both starting to feel the call of the “open road” — which is what he called the main road outside our little Hamlet when he was four. “Let’s go look at cars go by, on the open road,” he would say when he was very very small.

Blind Spots

I am keenly aware of my emotional need to put off his driving. While I have never stifled it, and I love that he’s going to the beat of his own drummer, I would absolutely be absolutely telling an absolute lie if I said that I’m groovy with the signs of his independence and his God-given, right-on-damned-time calls to spread his wings. I will not clip them, but I’m in no rush to provide an updraft.

To say that he has been the easiest child to raise, would be another lie. He is not “difficult” in the way that he is constantly obstinate or unruly; to the contrary, he is a beautifully sensitive and smart and sarcastic and kind person. It’s into that little white lie, that “good” kids are easier to raise, that we are drawn. He doesn’t really know too much from error; he doesn’t really know too much from failure; he doesn’t really know too much from struggle. That’s not because I’m a helicopter mom, I’m not. He’s just one of those guys who is observant, smart, patient and … well … maybe a little cautious.

I blame my mother.

Ha! That was snide. But she was with him most of his waking hours for his first year when I went back to work.

And it’s also that he’s just my first kid, and he broke the mold, so letting him go out there, into that “big bad world” is hard.

One day, at the parking lot, I had him get out of the car and walk around it. Count the steps required to circumnavigate its mass. I then asked him to give an additional ten feet around the sides and 80 feet off the front because we can’t control the tailgaters. “Imagine eight basketball posts and hoops lined up end-to-end in front of the car. That’s the space you need.”

I’m so full of shit. I don’t give that space. I think I might give half that space maybe 50 feet. I don’t tailgate, mostly because braking around here is half the drive. But I’ve also been driving for almost twice the length of his life (sweet God is that true?!) and my reflexes are cat-like. Rationalize rationalize rationalize…

It’s a long time coming: he is a good driver, he is diligent about his lane changes, but he doesn’t turn his body to scan behind the rolling tank’s clearance into a lane ahead of the SmartCar behind or beside us. (I HATE SMARTCARS… I know this might sound hypocritical to those of you who know me personally because we just got a MINI Cooper for our fun buggy, but I am human. I am weak.)

So instead of saying, “You really need to improve your upper body flexibility and give yourself [AND ME AS A TERRIFIED PASSENGER IN THIS CAR] space, and look behind you — THROUGH the [God damned] windows so we don’t kill someone…” I say, invoking my therapist who often started confrontational work with me by saying, ‘I wonder what it would be like…’ “Gee, maybe sitting up taller and getting more clearance between you and your forward traffic would give you more time to turn your body and look behind you before you switch lanes…[breeeeeeeatheeee…]”

So I have blind spots of my own. I don’t turn enough to see the moments coming on, the moments when he decides to hang with his buddies (who are lovely kids too) after a game; eat a little faster at the dinner table and escape a little sooner to his room or the basement; text a little more on his iDevice, only to shut it off when I near the 10-foot energy zone surrounding him. It’s at those moments I sustain a blow to my emotional solar-plexus, and double over a little with bittersweet appreciation: I’ve done a good job, this is what he’s supposed to do… he’s his own man. So why does it hurt so much?

Breathe.

Co-Driving as a Sympathetic Crash Test Dummy

You’ve read it a thousand times? Here’s one more truth: there’s a worn patch in the passenger seat foot well of my SUV. It’s from the imaginary brake. The arm rests have indentations and oil stains where my hands have gripped and squeezed and pressed and pulled. I think my body fits beautifully into the form I’ve created with my pressing away from the windshield, like a nice little sarcophagus — a “carcophagus!” for me to live in. I should wear my night guard when I ride with him.

He laughs about it. He knows I’m biting my tongue. He knows I’m doing my best to not blast him or react. It’s good for both of us. He thinks I’m a little too nervous. I think I like the car just the way it is: lacking any major dents anywhere, save for the puckers, skims and dips from his brothers’ errant kicks of a soccer ball at the speed of light.

So that whole thing about not texting while driving…. Don’t text while your kid is driving either.

After the high school parking lot and my mandated into and out of parking spaces; driving on strange grades and uneven terrain; in the rain; and navigating tight spaces, it was time for the big road. He drove us home from his high school. He waited his sweet time at that first right out of the safety of the school property, and I LOVE that about him: no one is going to rush this guy.

That’s from my mom too. In some amazing ways, she got through to him: that while the world is populated, you have to take care of yourself. Now, in all fairness, she took that self-interest of herself for herself and by herself to extreme self-guided levels, but somehow it distilled to him in a kinder and smarter way. I’m a born codependent: when not self-aware, I will try to please others until I pass out. Not my eldest. He’s a great teacher, and so I hear myself say to him, because this is life and death, “You have all the time you need. Dial back, let the cars go and bask in the relative safety of that STUDENT DRIVER magnet on the back of our death missile.”

Because of his nature to observe and assess and learn before stepping outside the lines, he is methodical. At right turns on red, if you’re behind him, you’ll know it: he stops to a full body-lurching-forward-against-the-seat-belt stop and then goes. This is because of me. I told him, “A right on red, means you stop on that red. I’ve gotten burned for it. So, you stop, don’t roll through.” I know fully well, and I’ve explained to him, that in time he will develop his own style and with experience he will begin to cut corners, turn wider, and blow off or assume rules for himself.

Once he got to 12 hours behind the wheel with me, I promised him he could drive the Cooper at his high school’s parking lot.

Kid in a candy store.

Kid in a candy store. This is a turbocharged rolling bathtub.

He couldn’t contain himself. He said it’s like a go-kart. He loves it. It’s fast, it’s nimble. Everything you need to see is right there. “I thought the Sequoia was responsive… holy cow…” he said, doing his best to censor himself and refrain from enthusiastic and humbling epithets.

“Well, yes and no. They’re both responsive in their own respective and proportional ways. I’m letting you drive it because you will likely need to learn how. There could be an instance wherein Dad or I get a headache or feel unwell or have an injury and you will need to drive. Your driving this or any car, just like for me, is a luxury, not an entitlement.” (“P’shaw,” says my inner craven Mario Andretti.)

Driving home from that session in the high school parking lot with the Cooper, he waved to let someone in ahead of him while we were rolling. The Cooper lurched to the right because he used his left hand and then back to the left because he corrected. Thank God it’s a narrow little matchbox.

“HOLY GODCHRISTJESUS! DON’T EVER DO THAT AGAIN….” Like a despot Joan Crawford, I dictated.

“WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO?!” he hissed, all full of himself as we coasted along, as vulnerable as a newborn kitten. I was SERIOUSLY doubting my choice to let him take us home and he was totally pissed at my reaction, something I’ve heretofore been pretty good at suppressing.

I paused. Took a couple breaths. Placed my tongue in the roof of my mouth and released my jaw.

Don’t fight with the kid behind the wheel.

“Something else. You’re to keep both hands on the wheel. It’s not even been an hour in this car, and you aren’t ready to ‘wave people into the lane…'” I said all huffy and eye-rolly and impatient. Not at all like Jesus. But Jesus didn’t ride with his son in a MINI Cooper in Fairfax County. “That driver will have to wait. You had the right of way. You were already in the traffic, moving along and you’re not Jesus… there was no one behind you, there was space for that car and while I think that driver was counting on it, you waved it in… When we are on our street, I will show you how to ‘double-flash’ a driver in ahead of you… by the way, the double flash is something I don’t think you’ll see in your driver’s manual; it’s sort of like a wink and a nod, a part of the driver’s patois… The beauty of it is that you keep both hands on the wheel…”

He’d checked out. I was the enemy for that instance.

There are assholes. Sometimes it’s me when I’m not like Jesus.

He encountered an asshole the other night. We were driving home from soccer practice pick-up. Because I prefer the Cooper, and I’m a born codependent, I let him drive the Cooper. This is where I have literally had to stop and examine my own head. “It’s not about what you want to ride in, Molly, it’s about what’s safest, Molly.” My husband the other night said, “The Cooper is a treat for him. Not a given…” and that was that. I thank God for my husband.

He stopped on red to take a right turn. The asshole behind us, likely came close to driving into us, stood on his horn. Turns out the asshole is a known asshole to my family and when we had the chance moments later, I stood my ground and chewed him up and spat him out. I was simply returning the favor from five years ago when he was an asshole in front of my children at the pool, and I reminded him by telling him he started it five years ago, and that vengeance was mine and right and just and OHHHH!! how the tables have turned…. I have a whole post written about that incident at the right on red and its ensuing carnival, but I’m not sure I’m going to share it on the blog. My husband is convinced this asshole knew it was my car because he remarked on it to my husband one night… I am feeling the pull to write more about this here, but I will ignore it.

No Better Teacher than Experience.

We can read all the Dr. Spock, watch all the Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz, Dr. Who we want and we will never be able to impart to others any wisdom we’ve gained therein. The only real teacher is experience. About three weeks ago, we were in the Sequoia and the road was slick and shiny from a recent rain. The clouds had parted, so it was also steamy and reflecting the low sun. We were heading west, into the sun, at about 6:30pm. I was doing my best to speak intentionally about the reflection, the glare and traffic lights being a nice idea, but when conditions are like this, you really need to watch the tail lights of the cars ahead of you.

I aggressively depicted the intersection we were approaching: it had SIX right-hand portals to either enter the main road or to exit the main road. Two of the six were actual streets, each with their own traffic light (yes, within 100 feet of each other); the other four in/outlets were for a gas station, a McDonald’s and two shared spots to enter the shopping center housing everything else. It’s a shitstorm waiting to happen and it needs some serious re-engineering, but that won’t happen because peeps gots to be getting’ gas and fries, yo…

In an instant, we were upon it.

“Back off the gas… coast…. Watch the tail lights… WATCH THE TAIL LIGHTS. COAST…. brrrrreaaaaaakkkk…..” I stopped talking. He wasn’t listening.

We were coasting in, all laaaa-deee-daaaa to our doom.

Something, like God knows what, had his attention. So I shouted, “USE THE FUCKING BRAKE, NOW….” and he said, “I was… I was… ” and I said, “MORE. PLEEEEEASE…” and he found himself standing on it.

The antilock brakes squinting their little eyes, turning away and bracing for impact… and we stopped.

About four feet from the bumper of the Mercedes in front of us, our SUV was diving and recoiling from its submission to Newtonian law. My son, that sweet angel with big green eyes, dimples and a smile to die for, looked at me and said, “Ok. Are you happy? We stopped.”

Ohhhhhhmmmmmmm Ong Namo Guru Dev Namo …. Aad Guray Nameh Sat Guray Nameh Guru Deveh Nahmeh…. Ra Ma Da Sa…. I went full-on Kundalini yoga: doing my inner chanting to spare myself, and the world, my fierce upset.

I breathed in, my nostrils flaring and pursed my lips, nodded and said, “Yes. You managed that well. That was intense. This is a death missile.” It was at this same shitstorm place where the asshole almost drove into us two weeks later. Irony? No.

Later that first night, he said, “You were right. I should have stopped sooner. I should not have relied on the traffic light. I should have been smarter…. You were right: nothing you say will teach me, it’s the experience…” Later that second night, he said, “You’re right. That intersection is a mess. It could have been me driving into someone else…”

I’m still popping Zantacs like they’re tic-tacs.

My son has waited this long to drive because he is aware of many things, the tension on the road being one of them, but most importantly because he hasn’t needed to drive to socialize. I read an article in the Washington Post recently about a trend depicting Americans falling out of love with their cars. Some suggest the trend is driven by gas prices, some suppose Über, ZipCar and the sharing economy, a trend toward living in cities, others confidently assert it’s because of hand-held devices and that our socializing is virtual and we don’t need to “see” our friends in order to hang with them.

Given my son’s predilections for his iPad at times and the ensuing bursts of laughter from chats he’s enjoying with this friends, I can totally concur with the article. Given my son’s pediatrician’s deep interest in my children’s’ appropriate need for an active and real and tangible social life, I can say that if my son is out on the road, he’s seeing other people. Even if we skirt the  the “Avatar” film’s “I see you” see-you, it could be enough.

Logging hours. The Openometer

As I mentioned earlier, my son wanted 20 hours by the time school started. He’s at about 18 and we’ve been in school for two weeks now. It’s not easy to log hours around here because everything is quite nearby. However, the resumption of soccer season has required driving to and from practice, so it’s starting to add up.

The Cooper has something fun called an “Openometer” which is a gauge that measures how long you’ve driven the car with the convertible top down. We have had the car since the beginning of August, and have recently logged 35 hours of open driving. This includes a four-hour road trip to a beautiful wedding last weekend, but excludes an entire week we were away in Connecticut. I am the primary driver, so I can drive it during the day when the kids are in school.

huge and tiny.

huge and tiny.

But we are talking about fun little car to ride in; not a giant SUV to train in. What this means, is that in order for my son to acquire the hours he needs to engender his independence, I need to be less codependent, think of his safety and experiences rather than my interest to be in a fun car and have him like me more. I have to let him spend more time with him behind the wheel: when we get milk, for drives to the barber shop, to fill up the tank…. It’s very time consuming; I’ve literally stopped myself from jumping into the driver’s seat many times, just so we can “get there.” But this only foils his growth. He prefers the Sequoia over my husband’s car, a Toyota Avalon, something we affectionately refer to as the “Old Man Car.” He loves that he can see so much and feel much safer in the SUV.

So it goes… in order to let these kids become more of themselves, we have to let go of a lot of ourselves, and become a better person that we think we are. For me, that means becoming more like Jesus: a 21st Century female Jesus who is trusting and more gentle; who refrains from playing The Killers at a deafening volume while her son is driving, and who is just plain more patient.

This was a long post. I hope you enjoyed it.

Thank you.