Mom I Need A Ride

Mom I Need A Ride

Art-Mom-I-Need-a-Ride-768x630By Francie Arenson Dickman

Back in 1998, right before we got married, my husband suggested that we trade in both our cars for a new one. And so, we did. I traded in my black two-door Honda, a tiny thing that fit nothing except for me, a death trap according to my parents, for a bigger one. A safer one. A car that could and would carry children. My husband, who loves all things auto—I assume because he’s from Detroit—was giddy with excitement. But I, who tends to love merely what’s mine, stood in my Ann Taylor suit unloading tapes of Enya and Indigo Girls from the glove compartment, maps from the side pockets and cried. I wasn’t just trading in a car, I was mourning the end of an era. I was saying goodbye to my solo passenger status and paying my respects to the concept of mine and only mine.

And with good reason. In a matter of years, the backseat was occupied with carseats and with twin backwards-facing riders. My glove compartment was filled with pacifiers. My side compartments were stuffed with toys and wipes. My CDs played Ralph, but who could hear him over the all the crying. For driving, like for mothering itself, these were tense times.

But, the reliable thing about time is that for better or worse it keeps rolling on, and with it so did we. From facing backwards to forward, from boosters to butts. From Montessori straight through middle school, I drove on. Until, suddenly, a decade and a half later, we’ve reached a marker, not a destination, but a rite of passage. As it is time, a friend just brought to my attention, to sign my passengers up for Driver’s Ed. Their classes won’t start until September. They won’t have their licenses for another year after. Nonetheless, the end of another road is in sight. A road I never imagined would end. Napping, I always knew was a phase. Just like the park, Princesses and playdates. But the carpool, like Twinkies and cockroaches, seemed like something that couldn’t possibly expire.

“When one door closes another one opens,” my mother told me that day I gave away my Honda. She tells me this often, as I’m a sucker for anything having to do with the passage of time, and she was, of course, right. Though I had no idea that when the door to the Honda shut, the next one would be opening and closing ad nauseam for the next 15 years. Had I only known that I would be blessed not only with two daughters but the job of chauffeuring them around, maybe I wouldn’t have cried so hard. Or maybe I would have cried harder.

Driving’s what I do—it’s what we all do. Working the wheel is an essential part of the parenting job. On most weekdays, I’m in and out of the car from 3:00 to 8:30 pm, and on weekends we go to dance shows out in Timbuktu. Is it tiresome? Yes. Do I complain about it? Certainly. Would I trade it in for another two-seater? Not for the world. At least not now.

Although my husband is now bugging me to do it. Once again, what is to me a momentous occasion is to him simply an opportunity to head to a dealership. “Let’s get you a new car, maybe something a little smaller,” he tells me. He wants to hand down my big old car to our daughters. The bigger, the better, he says, as far as their safety is concerned.

But I know better. As does Bessie, my first car, a Caprice Classic station wagon, the biggest car ever created. Together we crashed into fire hydrants, backed into other parents’ cars, and plowed through the dry wall of our garage. In fairness to us, Bessie didn’t give a warning beep when we got too close to objects like cars nowadays do. All I had was 3 or 4 of my backwards-facing friends to scream after the damage was done. In this regard, I suppose my kids will have technology on their side. On the flip side, I didn’t have a phone in Bessie to distract me. And so, regardless of the car they drive, I am worried. Times two.

But more than that, I’m not ready to come full circle. Although this time around, it’s not the car itself that I care about losing. I’m mourning the loss of my status as driver.

“Mom, can you give us a ride?” is the most commonly asked question in our house (next to “Mom, do you have any money?”) One would think I’d hate those words by now. Those reliable words. They ring down from upstairs. They appear as texts on my phone at random and often inconvenient times. But I say, “yes” whenever I can, not because I’m such a good sport, but because I’m selfish, as it’s now almost only the car, or more accurately, my ability to drive it, that continues to reliably bind us.

My black SUV has become the last great bastion of guaranteed togetherness—like a prison for teenagers—a place where my girls who once faced backwards and cried now sit next to me and talk, albeit reluctantly, about their days. Most of which are spent away at school or with friends. At night, of course, I lose them to their rooms. But during those afternoon hours in the car, or better yet, the weekend hour after hour going to dance shows, they are still mine and only mine.* And I love that. I always have.

*Okay, well, like 60% mine and 40% Snapchat’s.

Francie Arenson Dickman is a contributing blogger to Brain, Child. Her essays have appeared in publications including, The Examined Life, A University of Iowa Literary Magazine, The Chicago Tribune, and Literary Mama. She lives outside of Chicago with her husband and twin daughters and has just completed her first novel. Follow her on Twitter or Facebook.

Be Instead of Brag

Be Instead of Brag

Family Stick Figures ARTBy Elizabeth Richardson Rau

I was stopped at a red light recently and pondered the stick figure family affixed to the back window of the minivan in front of me: one soccer player, a lacrosse player and a couple of cheerleaders. I have one sticker on the back of my car—round, decorated with sherbet-colored flowers, it looks like something that would be on the side of a VW bus heading to Woodstock—that says “Pay it Forward.” The abundance of familial advertising on the back of that minivan got me wondering whether I should have stickers promoting my three-person family. If I advertised the realities of raising my teenaged son, they might look something like this: Future pot farmer on board! Bedroom smells like a gym locker! Suspended for having cigarettes in backpack! F in English = summer school! I don’t recall seeing any of these on the racks at my local Target, though.

Raising children, particularly teenagers, is a tricky business. Parenting is tough enough without the added pressure of competing with those who publicly proclaim to be doing it better than we are. I wonder when our children’s accomplishments became the source of our own self-esteem. And what message does advertising only the positive send to typical kids who miss curfew, roll their eyes and talk back? Public promotion of our kids’ accolades not only creates a false reality for other parents but teaches our children to conceal the reality of life: that it is messy and imperfect, just like they are.

When I was growing up in the 1970s, my parents did not contact our extended family or friends each time I did something boast-worthy, nor did they send a holly-trimmed newsletter each December bragging about my successes of the past eleven months. They did not have bumper stickers of any kind of the backs of their cars, certainly not ones advertising my identity as a tennis star or piano player. From them, I learned that the accomplishments themselves made me feel good, not the praise I received from others for achieving them. I was a typical teenager, much like the one that I am raising, an average student who participated in extra-curricular activities largely against my wishes; left to my own devices, I would have raced home every day after school to watch Little House on the Prairie while eating spray cheese straight out of the can. I did participate in many sticker-worthy activities, yet virtually no one outside my immediate family knew about it. There was no social media, and parental competition was something passed from ear to ear, not trumpeted from the top of the Internet mountaintop.

With Facebook came the public platform for showboating (Ate oatmeal for breakfast! Ran 5.5 miles! Twenty years ago, married the love of my life!). Twitter brought the capability to do so in 140-characters or less. When I was a pimply-faced, awkward adolescent, information moved at the turtle-slow pace of a note passed in the school hallway. My parents never thought to brag about my piano concert or number of tennis match wins. But today, with one click of a button or the slap of a sticker, the world is in the know about our business.

Why should we, as parents, care about public recognition for our kids’ accomplishments, and when did it become popular for parents to take credit for their children’s successes? I don’t recall ever seeing stickers advertising parental successes on the backs of any minivans (Employee of the month! Won preferred parking space at the gym! Voted most popular in book club!), so why do we put this pressure on our kids? Are we so desperate, as parents, for recognition of our kids’ achievements that we are willing to sacrifice the powerful lesson of gaining esteem from accomplishment to get it?
Listening in to conversations at high school sporting events, I hear mothers bragging about kids’ grades, sports wins, extra-curricular successes and those college applications! My son will be attending community college and while I am proud of his choice, mention it and people back away slowly, as though it might be catching. Community college is not sexy or prestigious, despite it being the best choice for my son. He doesn’t know what he wants to be for the rest of his life and has enough common sense to find out before investing a small fortune in an education he feels would be for show.

It is the accomplishments themselves, not the public trumpeting, that should generate self-esteem and self-worth. Teaching our children, particularly our vulnerable teenagers, to base their value on acceptance and third-party praise is one of the most damaging things we can do as parents. Instilling the value that being the best we can be, without recognition or judgment by others, is far more meaningful than advertising it. Life is about balance—with every accomplishment comes equal failure—so advertising only the good promotes a reality that is unattainable and puts pressure on our kids to be something that doesn’t exist: perfect.

My son learned a hard lesson when he lost his circle of friends because he was publicly honest about smoking pot. He admitted an imperfect choice, one that many of his friends also made regularly, and became an outcast overnight. The mothers of these boys, one of whom was my closest friend, led the social exodus and my children and I became prey to the realities of false advertising: it must look perfect in order to be accepted or worthy. Parenting teenagers is rarely pretty, but attractive lies are apparently far more appealing than ugly truths. Interestingly, the void left room for other families who were more interested in what we were on the inside as opposed to what we presented on the outside. Our social circle is smaller, yet more authentic as a result.

With drug use, suicides and mental health struggles in the adolescent population at epidemic levels, we must ask ourselves, as parents, if we should be advertising our kids differently, if at all. Teaching children to value themselves for their successes and be real about their struggles might be healthier than advertising partial truths. Perhaps the time has come to place value where it should really be: who we are as human beings instead of what we are achieving. Isn’t being—not bragging—the foundation of good self-esteem?

Be instead of brag. Maybe we can make that into a bumper sticker.

Author’s note: I continue to emphasize internal authenticity with my kids despite the challenges of doing so in a social media-obsessed world. We are regular practitioners of paying it forward and strive to “be instead of brag.”

Elizabeth Richardson Rau received her B.A. in journalism from Simmons College and an M.F.A. in creative writing from Western Connecticut State University. She is a freelance writer and marketing communications strategist and lives in central Connecticut with her two children.

photo: Gannet