car conversations

One of the reasons I opted for a car without a DVD player or TV screens on the headrests is because I value our car conversations, the ones we wouldn’t have if my beans were being carted off to karate lessons after school, wearing headphones, engrossed in a movie on demand. Conversations like this one, which I recorded on a device I keep in my car for jotting down ideas. It was raining, and we were zipping off to karate class.

Abigail said, “You know when it rains it’s because Mother Nature is crying.”
I responded, “Oh, really? Well, maybe, Mother Nature tried to get her hair cut today, and she was circling and circling for twenty minutes in downtown Manhattan today looking for a parking spot or an open lot and she couldn’t, so she started to cry because she couldn’t get her hair cut after all that and missed her appointment.”
Abigail said, “Mama, not everything is about you and your life.” And I laughed, and said, “Oh, really?!”
“Yes,” Lucas chimed in. “Mother Nature is actually the moon, and the sun punched her in the face. That’s why she’s crying.”
“Oh, is that so?” I said.
“No,” Abigail said. “Mother Nature’s parents are the sun and the moon, and her parents broke up.”
“What?!” I said.
“Yes,” she said, “wait, no. Mother Nature is in high school, and she just broke up with her boyfriend, and that’s why she’s crying. But we all know she’ll get over it, which is why the sun will come out soon enough.”
“Right on, yo.” I said.
“Nah,” Lucas said, “we’re Mother Nature’s play set, and we’re her dolls, and she’s zooming us to karate against our will, and she knows we don’t want to go, and that’s why she’s crying. She feels our pain.”
They no longer take karate class. Mother Nature has stopped the torture.




I was looking down at my nails, sitting in traffic, on our way into the city to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I had recently finished reading From The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, a novel about a brother and sister who run away and sleep in the museum. When I looked up from my nails and inched the car forward, I said, “Lucas, you’re gonna have to get a manicure while we’re here.”
“No way,” he said.
“Then you might have to keep us girls company for a quick one.”
“No, thank you,” he said.
“Just a little bit of company,” I said.
“You need to snap out of it, Mama!” Abigail piped in. “You’re here on business. You need to get your head in the game.” Holy smokes, I love this kid’s mouth.
Later, when I pointed out the Manhattan skyline, she said, “That’s the place where everyone wastes all their money.” And Lucas looked at the cemetery and said, “That’s the place where everyone puts all their sorrow.”


  1. It becomes even more important as the darlings grow up. There is nothing like a dark, quiet car for discussions on needing a first bra, getting a first period, not getting asked for a dance, finding an errant hair…all of those ridiculously personal things that are part of life, but are oh-so-painful for teens.

    I used to cherish the time in the car. For a few years, the darlings all went to different schools in very different parts of the city. So we’d get up at 6:02, breakfast, pack lunches, dress and leave the house at 6:52 – no exceptions. I’d drop one, then the middle one, then the baby – head home, throw on a hat and go to work. Thankfully mom did the pickup in the afternoon.

    We spent countless hours in the car listening to books on tape – actually that’s how I met Harry Potter – the ever fabulous Jim Dale narrating it for hours and hours and hours as we’d explore this beautiful state we live in. We’d drive for a while, vote on which way to turn, go that way for a while. Then we’d find a local diner or petting zoo – work off a little energy – wade in a pond or lake – and tuck back in for more stories.

  2. Good for you; I won’t have a car with an entertainment system beyond audio for the same reason.

    As they get older, you will find that seated side by side in the front seat is a superb way to communicate about awkward or painful topics. Something about not facing each other makes it easier.

    I never let my older son (now 16) ride the bus to middle school, because truthfully, that alone time after we dropped his brother off was some of our best quality time during those years.

    Some days our conversations were very serious and others more playful banter, but they were special mother-child moments I continue to cherish, and now I have the same middle school moments with his brother.

    You can use even brief care trips (“Running to the store, one of you come with me.”) in the same way, to get one child’s mouth to your undistracted ear.

    It is not uncommon for a child to request that we “keep driving” when we are in a good discussion, I think because at home or in another venue there ARE so many distractions — for goodness sake, we carry little distraction systems around on our person and call them “phones”.

  3. When my daughter got her own car, it made my life easier in some ways because she could drive herself everywhere but I missed those conversations so much. So important at any time in life but especially the teen years! Also, she would play music for me that she liked and I miss that too.

    I love your kids statements about Manhattan. Those are some very insightful beans you have there. Thanks for sharing the conversation.

    1. Oh, flashback! I remember being in the car with my Dad, who was 47 years my senior, and him grousing about how my music was “all noise”.

      I was defending it, and he said, “THIS song, right now! What is it even about?”

      And I said, “Well, this guy’s girlfriend has tried to tell him they have nothing in common, and he is trying to say that’s not true, pointing out that they both like this one movie, Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”

      My Dad’s face lit up, and he said, “Why, I like that movie, too!” And from then on when that song came on the radio, he turned it up.

    2. In the name of transparency, I must disclose that I was waaaay past my teen years when this conversation took place, alas.

      1. Sallie – that is so funny! My mom and I had the same issue. Then the song by Chicago – Your Kiss is on my List came along. This was my 12 year old THEME song! In that special, peculiar, 12 year old kind of way.

        Mom tried to be hip and like it – but she started asking questions. “Why is her kiss on his list?” “Maybe it’s his blister on her list? Blister on her sister? Blisters, sisters, listers…oh god. I was SOOO MAD for about a year – and now I just laugh hysterically every time it comes on.

        1. My personal anthem was “Wouldn’t It Be Good” by Nik Kershaw, which played on the radio like every twenty minutes when I had just turned thirteen. Sadly we were living in London so no car memories of it, as I primarily rode the Tube. But while at home I listened to the radio pretty much nonstop and so belted it out umpteen times a day, no doubt to my father’s immense delight.

  4. Kiss on My List was Hall and Oates but there was that great Hard to Say I’m Sorry song by Chicago in 1982. Great time to be a teenager.

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