The whirling blur that pops in after school grabs a snack and runs out again claims to be my son. How do you get a little private time with the busy teen? Even the classic “windshield time” in the car, now fights the onslaught of portable devices.
With the advance of our personal devices, (cell phone, ipods, laptops) comes the desire for a personal soundtrack. The 80’s saw the advent of the Walkman, a cassette player for your personal listening enjoyment anywhere! (Just watch Back to the Future to see a Walkman in action.) Factory installed DVD players in the family minivan killed communal activity of listening to the family radio, books on tape or just talking in the 90’s.
Now early access to cell phones provides each kid and parent the opportunity to listen to their own music, podcast or book while traveling.
“Windshield time is dead,” I thought as I climbed into the driver’s seat for a trek down to Denver. Sound Check! Did everyone charge their device? With headphones smashed on our ears, we started out on a three hour trip to Denver.
Ugh! I felt split in my mind on my preferences. Listening to my book, escaping the boring drive, just checking out sounded good. Or, I could try to generate conversation with the other head-phoned persons in the car?
Once upon a time, we listened to stories together in the car or even (“gasp”) talked with each other! Once upon a time, like a fairy tale, we even made up silly songs and games to play in the car.
Is windshield time gone for good, I mused?
As the boys get older, will immersion in our own personally selected electronic story be the norm? No longer a space for casual conversation, the car is just a sound room–a place to escape into the thoughts and voices of others piped into our ears.
Then it happened.
The child in the back seat sat staring out the wind, naked. Naked meaning no device pouring information into his cranium.
“What’s up buddy”, I asked? I was thinking his battery died in his MP3 player.
“Nothing, I just feel like looking out the window and doing nothin’, Mom”, he calmly replied.
I whipped off my headphones–ready for a conversation that might break out at any moment. For a while, he just sat and gazed at the mountain pass.
“Don’t push him, I thought, go back to your own thoughts. Let him rest maybe he will talk later.”
The Big Win!
Then out of nowhere, I started singing,
“Here we go round the rabbit ears, the rabbit ears, the rabbit ears. Here we go round the rabbit ears so early in the morning” (think Mulberry bush).
No one joined me the first time, but by the third round even the oldest pulled back his headphones and joined the ditty. We laughed made up verses and sang in silly voices while going over Rabbit Ears Pass on the way to Denver.
Yay! A connection! Interaction time together rather than in our separate worlds. We talked for the next hour! Big win!
On the return trip with only one son much too late at night, my oldest started sharing the most lovely things with me. I clandestinely pulled out my apple earphones after his second sentence.
“Mom, I don’t know how you do it, he said quietly. You are amazing. You keep my baseball uniform clean, you make sure I have the food I want for my lunch, you take care of Dad and my brother, you help me with my homework and you are doing all this driving to get me to baseball games in Denver. Thanks, Mom, you are really doing a good job. Oh, and thanks for the Starbucks too.”
The Gift of Windshield Time
A long day, a very long Mother’s Day Sunday in fact, with a payoff I did not expect. Despite all the devices and losing the last baseball game my sweet teenager voluntarily put down his headphones and blessed me. Blessed me with his awareness of all the “good” his father and I want to do for him.
Acknowledgment, so simple, so hard to do. Windshield time is one of those semi-distracted private spaces that provides the space to acknowledge the ways we appreciate the closest and dearest people in our lives. Seth Godin, the genius marketer, said it best on a Tim Ferriss Podcast:
“If you spend two hours a day without an electronic device, looking your kid in the eye, talking to them and solving interesting problems, you will raise a different kid than someone who doesn’t do that. And that’s one of the reasons why I cook dinner every night. Because what a wonderful semi-distracted environment for the kid to tell you the truth, for you to have low-stakes but super important conversations with someone who’s important to you.”
Windshield time, cooking, cleaning out a dirt bike carburetor, camping, fishing, travel, in general, creates that space. Margins for the important conversations to take place while some type of distracting (often a manual task) is happening.
My Toddler, My Teen
My tired teen poured all this blessing into me and then fell into a deep sleep in the front seat. Twelve years flew by almost in a breath and my golden-haired toddler now stretched full length in the front seat of the car.
All my frustration and tiredness disappear. Driving the long hours back and forth to baseball games still meant quality time in the quiet of the little glass bubble called a car. Despite the devices, the car creates space, space for words, feelings, and emotions.
Wrapped in the warmth of this great Mother’s Day Gift. I drove home listening to my brand new teenager breathe as he slept.
I no longer carry my boy to the car after a long day. Nor do I carry this 120 lb man-boy up to his bed. Instead, I drive and listen for the soundtrack of his life to connect with mine. It is like waiting for a storm to break. Sometimes it is a gentle light rain that brushes my cheek and sometimes it is a cloudburst of excitement and newness. Often abrupt, with very little polite tempering, his moods roll in an out of my life. Either way, I am watching and listening for the removal of the headphones that signals opportunity.
Womb-like, the car provides the safety we need to share “words” with others that anywhere else might seem sappy, scary, or harsh. My little glass bubble of boredom during long drives is a gift. This growing boy with a thousand and one items on his agenda amazes me.
Thank goodness windshield time is not dead.
Want more on Teens – Try Theses!