Car Talk

Car Talk: Summer 2015

Car_toyDriving my kids around can be such an enlightening experience. As they rapidly grow from children to preteens, I am amazed at how mysterious I find them. What are they thinking? What’s going on in their little minds?

The car affords one of the best places to gain insight into your child–ask any parent. And, since my boys are still relegated to the back seat, at times I feel like a taxi driver, trying to get to know my customers a little better before releasing them back into the world at large.

The boys are in a morning soccer camp this week. We are all feeling the effects of the waning days of summer–not wanting to lose this freedom, yet in dire need of a routine. Because of this contradiction, I find that they and I become irritable as the start of school approaches. Such is life.

But today, on the drive to camp, was one of those days where their thoughts revealed such deep thinkers and observant young minds.

As we rode in unaware silence, Owen (10) offered this view: “So many times, I think about how weird it is that we are here, that we’re alive, since we are all going to die.”

“I know,” I say, “I think about that a lot, too. I think a lot of people do.” PAUSE: Let me take a moment to acknowledge that just a few years ago, my neurotic tendency would have made me say something like, “Well, try not to think about death,” or “It’s best to avoid such thoughts.”  Translation: Just stuff all that dark matter DEEEEEP down inside to feed on your anxieties. But now, I’m not motivated by fear. I welcome these thoughts because I understand they are completely natural and talking about them is healthy.

Hayden (9) becomes excited by this subject. “Yeah,” he chimes in, “how DID the first person come to life?”

“A lot of people think it was God, that he made humans,” says Owen.

Immediately, I counter him, “But, a lot of people also believe in science. Scientists say we came about as a natural development of the environment.” Here, I lag in expertise. “…that with the help of water, cells interacted…” I trail off, surprised at just how daft I am in the theory of evolution, having attained most of my knowledge from the first Jurrasic Park movie.

Owen pipes in, “Yeah, water was key. The body IS made up of something like 75-80 percent water.”

Sounds good to me. I move away from my scientific discourse and advance the subject. “I often think of that movie we saw about the prehistoric family, The Croods.

“Oh, the one where they had to hide in that cave most of the time in order to survive,” says Owen, “but then they start to adventure out and realize all that they were missing.”croods

I love that he remembers the moral of the film.

“Yeah, and how they had to hunt for their food,” I respond. “Could you see us doing that? Imagine how skinny we would all be if we had to hunt and kill everything we ate?”

Owen, who is skin and bones, considers this: “I think I’d be one of our first meals!”

I laugh at this. A strong, hearty laugh.


A few hours later, I pick the boys up from camp. They are hot and tired. On the way out of the park, I notice a younger couple, on a lunch break from work, leaning up against the hood of their car, arms wrapped around one another, kissing passionately. I look at them and think how fast life moves. How many lifetimes ago was that? Then, I look to the back seat where Owen is watching the same encounter. He is studying their every movement. Half jokingly, I say, “Owen, don’t look at that.” This prompts Hayden to look away from the kids playing soccer and directly at the kissing couple.

“Isn’t it funny,” I say. “When someone tells you not to look at something, what’s the only thing you want to do?”

“Look at it,” say the boys in unison.

“I know,” I say.

“And if a grown up tells you not to look at something, you definitely want to be sure and look,” says Owen. “That usually means that it’s must be something awesome.”

Again, I burst out with a laugh.

Two rides. Two glimpses into the minds’ of the young. Thank God, and/or scientists, for the car!

Car Talk, Volume 2

Car_toySummertime, and the livin’ is easy–ISH.

I know I am lucky to be a teacher, because I get to enjoy a longer summer vacation. But anyone who has kids knows that “vacation” can mean anything but relaxation. Change is difficult, especially for kids, who crave routine. We are into our second week of summer here at the Trainer household, and everyone is beginning to adjust. Part of our plan includes a local camp through the township. Last week was a bit tense, as the boys worried about who they would know and if it would be fun. Today, as I dropped them off, they seemed like they had been going there all their lives.

This morning’s car ride to camp was much more lively than any morning last week, as the nervous energy was replaced with excitement. I must admit, I was a bit grumpy, as it was pouring rain. I’m talking buckets! Here in Pennsylvania, we just ended our wettest June on record. Suffice to say, I’m a little sick of getting soaked. Luckily, our car talk pulled me out of my foul mood. The following is a transcript of our ride to camp:

As we pull out of the driveway, a middle-aged woman turns on to our street and waves me down.

Lady: Can you tell me where Phipps Avenue is?

Me: I don’t know, Miss. (I see she has directions printed out. I ask her to read me the last few lines. After she fumbles through some street names and landmarks, I am able to direct her to where she is going. A car pulls in behind her, and patiently waits for me to explain things to her)

Lady: Thank you so much.

Me: You’re welcome! Have a good day. (I wave to the car behind her in appreciation–happy to see that it is my neighbor)

Owen(8): That was crazy!

Hayden(7): Yeah, what the heck was that?

Me: That lady was lost, guys. And she needed our help.

Owen: Yeah, but she had no idea where she was.

Me: Exactly. Did you see how nervous she was?

Hayden: Yeah.

Owen: Were you nervous?

Me: (I immediately dismiss this as a silly question, but then it dawns on me that I was a bit nervous). Well, I was a little worried that the car behind her was going to honk or yell at us to hurry up. People have trouble being patient. I know I sure do sometimes. But, it’s important to help someone when they are lost, because someday…(I go up an octave when I say “day” hoping they will finish with “someday you might be lost.” They don’t bite.) Someday you might be…

O and H: LOST!

Me: Yes. Lost. Not even “might be”–will be. Everyone gets lost. Everyone. That’s why it’s important to be patient because someday you will be in a similar situation.

As we drive, the roads are flooded and traffic is slow. We pass the community college where there is a delay at the entrance. A young man has a flat tire and is stuck in the middle of the entrance. Cars begrudgingly detour around him.

Me: Oh, no!

O and H: What?

Me: That poor guy has a flat tire. He’s not having a good morning. You know, we’re lucky because we’re on summer vacation, but a lot of people have to go to work today, and it’s raining, and it’s Monday.

Hayden: I HATE Mondays.

Owen: Me, too.

Me: Now, Mondays can be rough, but you can’t hate a whole day. And why would you hate it if you’re on vacation?

The boys ponder this as they watch lines of cars going this way and that. We stop at a red light.

Owen: Dad, look! There’s your car, but in red. (I drive a 2005 Saturn Vue. )

Me: Oh, yeah. Look at that. (There is a Prius stopped right in front of us at the light.) I’m thinking my next car will be like the one if front of us. It runs partially on electricity.

Owen: Can you get in blue, please?

Me: I’m sure I can.

Hayden: I want you to get a car like the one Big Dave has (our next door neighbor). A conterv, a conventi…

Me: A convertible?

Hayden: Yeah.

Me: Well, that’s not really practical for us, and that car costs a lot of money. Big Dave is older than I am, so he’s been able to save more money because he has worked longer than I have.

The green turn arrow appears on the stop light above us. The lady in the turn lane next to us angrily honks her horn at the car in front of her.

Me: That woman seems to be having a bad morning, too. She needs to be more patient.

Owen: If you quit your job, do you have to give all the money back that they paid you?

Me: No! That money is yours. You earned it. (Then I make the mistake of trying to further explain the consequences of quitting a job. I use words like “benefits” and “stock options”. I do not even know what the hell I am saying, I just want them to know there are consequences when you quit something. I dial back the rhetoric.) The goal is to always get a better job than the one you had before. You will have a lot of different jobs in life. You might even get fired or laid off. (Here I go again–more depressing employment speak. Topic shift…) You know, I recently read that 30% of the jobs that will exist when you guys are adults, don’t even exist now.

Confused looks from the back seat.

Me: Think about it. (Holding up my cell phone) We didn’t even have these until ten years ago. And when I was little, we didn’t even really have computers.

Owen: I wish I lived back then.

Me: Really?

Owen: Yeah, then I would’ve just played outside all day.

This observation saddens me, and makes his younger brother go apoplectic.

Hayden: But Owen, then you wouldn’t be able to play Minecraft! (He hits Owen’s arm to reinforce his shock). They didn’t have Minecraft back then!!!

Owen: It would just mean that I would play it when I was older.

Hayden still looks distraught.

Owen: Your older self could play Minecraft because it exists now.

Me: Well, we had video games, like Atari. (I try to defend my generation and the fact that we found reasons not to play outside all day, too. 🙂

We reach the line of cars waiting to turn in to the school for camp. It looks worse than it is.

Owen: Dad, do you know they changed the drop off spot?

Me: Yes.

Owen: But do you know where to drop us off?

Me: No. But don’t worry. I’ll just follow the other cars.

He seems satisfied by this logic. We clearly see the other campers checking in at the front of the school. I am glad to have returned to the present; to have stopped time travelling into the past where my sons would have played outside more, but now would be middle-aged men; to the future where they may have just been let go from a company that continues to downsize to increase their profit margin. We are here at camp. It is summer. It may be raining. It may be Monday. But my boys are safe, and they feel secure in their new routine.

Greeter: Hello! Is this your first week?

O and H: No, our second! (They bask in their status as “seasoned” campers.)

Greeter: Then you can go find your group behind me.

Female Counselor: Hi, Hayden!

Male Counselor: Hey, O! What’s up?

The boys smile as they enter the now-familiar line of fellow campers. I walk to my car, with a bit more of a bounce in my step. I don’t even mind having to splash through a few puddles.