It is a truth universally acknowledged (by parents) that all of the best conversations with your kids happen in the family car. Perhaps it’s the perception that the car is neutral ground. Or maybe it’s because there’s a captive audience.
What I have discovered is that driving with kids acts as a sort of truth serum. It is here that they are comfortable sharing secrets and troubles of the heart. If I feel that one of my kids has been a bit neglected, or that they are carrying a heavier metaphorical weight than usual I will often suggest a quick spin in the car in order to excavate the problem or simply to reconnect.
The car also seems to be where my kids indulge in a little test driving of the newest swear word or adult concept – usually couched as a junior-style investigation. “Mum, what is a d*#@head?” or; “Mum, what does ‘sexy’ mean?” or (a friend of mine’s pet peeve, prompted by radio advertising) “Mum, what is premature ejaculation?”
A little while ago the kids and I were driving home from a shopping trip. I was, as usual, engrossed in my mental to-do list and not really tuning in to their conversation. That is until the volume level rose ever so slightly.
Levi: “NO! I just want them to be partners.”
Indiana’s response was quieter, so I had to strain a little to hear: “But can’t they just be les-beens?”
The kids were playing with Levi’s cuddly puppy toys and there seemed to be some disagreement about how the puppies’ relationship should be defined. I thought that now was the time to steer the discussion a little.
“What’s up kids?” I asked, hoping I sounded non-committal.
“I want the puppies to be les-beens…” started Indiana.
“I just want them to be partners,” whined Levi.
“Mum, what are les-beens anyway?”
I’m sure we have had this discussion before, but I humoured them. “Well, it’s when a girl chooses a girlfriend rather than a boyfriend.” Age-appropriate and easy to digest, I thought.
“What about if they’re boys, are they still called les-beens?” Indy responded, quick as a flash. Somehow I think she may have already had the schoolyard answers to these questions and was just testing to see if my responses married up.
Now I was in slightly deeper waters – what was the correct age-appropriate term for homosexual men? ‘Homosexual’ seemed too medical-textbook and everything else felt derogatory. Flying on a wing and a prayer, I went with my instinct. “Well, two men who love each other are often called ‘gay’,” I said.
The gaping silence from the backseat needed to be filled and, with visions of the aforementioned schoolyard, I said, “But you might have heard people say ‘gay’ in a mean way.”
A little murmur of assent came from behind so I soldiered on. “But it shouldn’t be said in a mean way and I hope you would never do that.” A solemn shake of the head from Indy signalled the end of today’s investigation. When the game continued, I think it was decided that the puppies would be known as ‘partners’. Fair enough.
Later that day, I rang Mum to tell her about my latest adventure as a mother. She treated me to a sample of her own very special brand of laissez faire parenting. “I would have just told you to work it out for yourselves,” she said.
*sigh* It really is a wonder I know anything at all.
But her approach seems to have worked. I hope mine does too.