I love to drive. There’s something about being in the car that I have always found relaxing. It’s the perfect self-imposed adult time-out. It affords me valuable time to just sit: no talking, no chasing, no busyness. Some of my best thoughts and ideas come out when I’m behind the wheel. Often, it’s one of the only places that my trains of thought have a prayer of being finished. Come to think of it, I feel the same way about car rides now that I used to feel about showers (that is, until they became a luxury that is all too often interrupted by little people!).
As a mom, I’ve utilized the car on more than one occasion as a cure for tough days. Loading the kids in and going on a short drive is a great way for everyone to take a little break and hit reset. If the day’s happenings have been particularly wild or exhausting, putting them in their seats with books and toys can be a great stress-reliever. Moments of quiet, safe containment have offered me refreshment and calm when it’s most needed.
A few weeks ago, I got into the car to bring my daughter to preschool, and as I sat in the driver’s seat, I noticed something was missing. The radio wasn’t working! Neither was the CD player! Their absence was glaringly obvious as we sat in silence. Ever since I started driving in high school, having music set up was an integral part of my driving experience. I could not physically pull out of my driveway until there was something coming through my speakers. My music selection may have shifted over the years from carefully curated to whatever is on the radio, but having it in the background almost seems like a relaxation cue for my brain.
Every time I climbed into the car those first few days I, out of habit, reached for the volume button before noticing the lack of sound. I asked my husband to please look into getting it checked out as soon as possible. But as the days and weeks ticked on, I stopped reminding him. Honestly, most of the time, I forgot about music completely. When I strapped my kids into their seats and got behind the wheel, I found that listening to music was easily and thoughtlessly exchanged for things that were much more worthwhile to me. Peeking at my infant son via our mirrors at stoplights to ‘talk’ to him and imitate his babbling (which always brings on huge smiles and giggles!). Listening to my four-year-old tell me all of the things she noticed on our drive; simply being fully present for her to share her observations and thoughts (which are plenty these days!).
Don’t get me wrong– these things happen regularly throughout our day. We have a great and communicative relationship, and it’s not as though there had been some ‘no talking’ mandate on our time in the car. But when it comes down to it, I don’t love the message that my occasional ‘car time-outs’ could potentially be sending my daughter, unbeknownst to me. Letting her see and hear that my ears are available for listening and exchanging words with her speaks volumes. If there is constantly music to be talked over, or a physical barrier (like a phone) to pull down in order for us to converse, I’m not truly available. I’m tied up and somewhat closed off. That is not the mom I aspire to be. As she grows, I hope that our time together in the car will be open and available for meaningful and connecting dialogue.
The more I process this, I realize that there have already been a number of poignant conversations and teaching moments that have taken place in the car in her short life. We’ve talked about homelessness; about giving and having compassion. We’ve prayed together for others. I’ve talked with her about how it comforts her little brother when she holds his hand or talks to him when he’s upset. She’s told me what made her happy and what made her sad during her day at preschool. I have come to know her better and caught many glimpses of her personhood sitting behind the wheel of our SUV. May I never be so wrapped up in my own web of inward-focus that I fail to foster these moments. The moments where more pieces of her heart are offered to me, freely, are the good bits of life.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting, and taking, a moment to be silent and decompress a little bit. I am confident that the car will remain one of my fail-safe methods of taking a breather. I’ll always enjoy having those occasional pauses to regroup. But what I do submit is this: regularly taking car time to turn off my phone, the DVD player, the radio, whatever that barrier is, in order to connect with my kids should be a cornerstone of building my relationship with them. I’m positive that I’ll continue to watch them flourish from my rearview mirror.
Rachel is a wife and mother living in Raleigh, North Carolina. She’s a fan of good coffee, wearer of gray t-shirts, and is constantly starting books she will never finish. Her family is her joy, and she loves to engage with other moms and dads on matters of parenting. Her blog posts have also been featured on the Today Show Parenting Blog and Scary Mommy.