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Several years ago, when my two daughters were very young, I was driving in the car with them in the back seat. The baby was wailing — she hated the car — and the toddler was loudly singing to try to drown her out. I was doing my best to stay calm and popped in an old CD to distract me. It was Fleetwood Mac’s Greatest Hits, and I was suddenly transported to the back seat of the car while my mom played the same tape over and over again. It occurred to me, for the first time ever, that part of my mom’s love of listening to music in the car was not just that she was a fan, but that the music drowned out the racket my brother and I were making.
My mom is not around anymore for me to confirm or deny epiphanies such as this — she passed away before I had my daughters — but, like many people who have lost a beloved family member, I still have conversations with her all the time. This one went like this: “Wait a minute! Did you really like Fleetwood Mac that much or were you just trying to drown us out? Mom? Mom!” And then I heard that laugh of hers, acknowledging that she had been found out.
As my kids have gotten older, it does sometimes feel as if “chauffeur” has become part of my parental job description. It is not unusual for me to spend the better part of a day pulling into and backing out of the driveway with one or both of my children in the back seat on our way to soccer, a dance class, a piano lesson, a birthday party, a school event, or any number of other activities.
My mom always said that as we got older, she learned a lot in the car by just listening to our conversations with friends. As we became reticent teenagers, she felt something about the car made us more open to talking. Whether it was the ability to have a conversation without making eye contact or to end a chat by turning up the radio or arriving at our destination, conversations did seem to flow more easily in the car during those years.
I remember rides home from dances where I hadn’t gotten to talk to the boy I wanted to, from awkward parties where I felt as though everyone but me fit in, from softball games or tennis matches that I had played poorly in. Getting into the car was always such a relief: seeing my mom or my dad’s face and knowing that they would tell me that whatever had happened wasn’t the end of the world, that it was just part of growing up.
My daughters are only in the second and third grades now, so we are, thankfully, still a few years away from dances and teenage angst. At the moment, they talk to me so much in the car that I occasionally have to ask them to stop so that I can pay attention to the GPS directions. But I’m always quick to ask them to continue with their stories once I figure out where we are going. I know they won’t be in the back seat of my car forever.
And while it’s hard to even imagine, I know that someday, they will be the drivers of their own cars. They will be the ones choosing what song to listen to, what road to take, what speed to go. Until then, I’m happy that they are my passengers, that I can hear about their days, quiz them on their spelling words, and listen in on their conversations and jokes. And, yes, occasionally drown them out with some music — or, better yet, play something we can all sing along to, windows down, breeze in our hair.
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