Momming ... in my car

I’m on this road, but I do not travel it alone.

My ever-growing, three-egg-a-day-eating teenage boy and my spunky, determined tween daughter — who goes through her day in a constant hum — join me.

It’s strange that these two who I watched oh-so-carefully as they grew in and out of car seats and into booster seats — and quietly awed at their transition from Baby Gap to Gap Kids — are stretched out and long-legged, often with one of them in the seat right beside me.

In my car, once sat a bubbly effervescent blue-eyed boy. He would ooh and ahh over the chippie truck in the grocery store parking lot and kick his feet constantly to the music playing. I would point out things that moved: planes in the sky, cars that seemed extra sporty.

I’d take my time approaching train tracks just so he could have the chance at watching one go by. I’d roll the window down and watch his face brighten at the sound of the whistle, the whoosh of the train cars. He’d smile at the way the wind — that the train so dramatically produced — would blow his soft hair around.

In my car, once sat a quiet girl in pink. She loved two certain fingers on her right hand so much, she left a small tooth impression on top of them, and, consequently, the nails would never grow. Her top lip produced a slight bow from being pushed up by them. She liked the peace of classical music, in the car especially. She would take her fingers out of her mouth only when she saw a dog walking by or bird just outside her window.

I would take drives to point out cows and goats and horses. She was happy, quietly watching the world pass by — the sound of her finger-sucking crescendo-ing with her happiness.

My son’s cheery baby babbles have been replaced by a deep voice that retells stories about football practice or his fears about high school. I ask him questions about how the lunch table was, and inquire: Was that a new friend I noticed commenting on his Instagram feed? Instead of watching the noise outside of the window, he has become very much a part of it.

My daughter’s baby shyness has turned to a constant state of chatter, giggle and cheer. She loves to retell funny things that happened in class, describe the flora and fauna of Minnesota and detail the ongoing drama of the girls-versus-boys soccer matches at recess.

In my car, the conversations have changed from how they observe the beauty of the world to how to function in it.

I push them a bit more, asking for more details they might not otherwise give me. If someone is mean or short with them, I ask them to think if that friend might have had a bad day. If someone was rude to them getting in line for lunch, I encourage them to watch out for the underdogs, give high fives and say hello to the ones that seem to have fewer friends than others.

I ask them the whys about what they studied that day. Explain that to me. Did you know this about what you’re learning?

My car and all the time I spend in it, driving them back and forth, is an opportunity for me. What can seem mundane and utilitarian has become a chance for me to build them up and arm them for the world outside.

I don’t buckle them in and out of their seats and place them gently on the ground anymore.

They click themselves in and out and run off to their day and activities on their own. But I hope my conversations with them spill out with the same affections and the desire to keep them safe, keep their hearts harnessed and their minds open to accept and love others when they step out of the car.


Jennifer Wizbowski lives in Excelsior with her husband, and daughter and son, ages 11 and 14. She writes Minnesota Parent’s Teens & Tweens column and also blogs for mnparent.com. Send comments, questions and story ideas to jwizbowski@mnparent.com.