Ahhhh, the sounds of silence. There are no words.
My weekly teen carpool is nothing like a vanful of tweens – which is an exercise in question ping-pong. But WHY can’t I have a phone for my birthday? Cause you’re turning 10. WHY can’t we go for ice cream? Cause it’s -10 out there. WHY can’t I sit in the front seat? Cuz I said no. The tween drive is also a study in van-trashing: Really, guys? A chewed-gum tower in the cup holder? Really? and an insane game of musical seats. I called the middle! I called it! MOM!!! On those drives, I’m fine, just as long as I remember my earplugs.
In stark contrast, when I arrive at the teen homes in the semi-dark, it’s quiet. I honk, they come. Slowly. Like zombies. Feet dragging, eyes vacant, faces slack. There are no good mornings, no smiles, no questions. Just the sound of the door sliding open and then shut. They bring their own earplugs – in the form of headphones. They don’t want outside sounds. For them, there are three choices:
1. Block out all sound by plugging into ipods
2. Text (maybe even to each other, right there in the back seat – but hey, at least they’re not driving and texting, right?)
3. Lie down if there’s and empty seat and snooze
They are not trying to be rude. It’s just that at 8:00 am, the teen brain is not awake, let alone the teen mouth and the wiring in between. No matter what time they hit the hay last night, it was too late. They’re not hungry yet, they’ve barely made it out the door with coat, shoes, backpack and lunch, and the last thing they want to do is engage.
I sound really intuitive, don’t I? Well, I’m not. I kicked off the school year drives trying to spark some clever car chat – about upcoming tests, vacations, weekend plans. I even tried a little music and movie talk – topics sure to catch flame. They’d reward me with one-word answers at first, but then I’d get whispers that required me to ask the same question two, three, four times. I thought they had hearing problems. What? I asked, turning down the radio. Come again?
Finally, when those whispers devolved into Tarzan grunts, I got with the program. Small talk has no place in the teen morning carpool. It took me a month to figure out that all I have to do – the politest, most respectful thing to do – is shut up and respect their right to enjoy the ride.
Wait for it. There’s karma coming.
When I finally gave up trying to connect with the kids, I started looking forward to my Friday morning teen carpool. In it, there is zero pressure on me. I don’t have to be Carol Brady trying to teach six kids the facts of life. For that one half hour of the day, I can forget living up to the standard of a great mom. Hey, I don’t even have to pretend to be a cheery morning person. I’m off the hook. I can be a grumpy, selfish bitch or one of those mute chauffeurs that owns the road. I get to listen to the news station. I get to sip my coffee, tweet at stoplights, flip the bird at bully drivers, curse at the rain or just enjoy the rising sun in peace.
When I pull up at school, the kids drag their butts from seats and file out, each mumbling a quick thanks as they go. The door slides shut.
No, thank you, my friends. Thank you.