I hear lots of interesting things from the back seat of the car. For example, it was in the car that I learned that the thinning hair on the crown of my head is now a bald spot the size of a small dinner plate.
My kids tend to exaggerate.
But I usually don’t respond to these tidbits of information. I pretend not to hear. It is the only way I learn anything interesting about the lives of my children.
By interesting, I am of course referring to the things they would never talk to me about alone in the front seat.
I have found that car pools can be an especially revealing window into their worlds. For example, it really is amazing the things you find out when driving a bunch of 13-year-old girls to a middle school dance.
Did you hear that Will broke up with Charlotte right before school?
You mean Will who wears the same shirt everyday?
I heard he ran to his locker yelling “freedom” in front of EVERYONE!
That is SO mean!
Yeah, Charlotte was crying all morning.
Wow, how long have they been together?
Yeah, but they got back together at lunch so now Charlotte is really happy again.
In the space of one Taylor Swift song I also learned that Natalie kissed an eighth grader, a kid named Bobby held someone’s hand at the mall, and at the school dance Max is going to ask Alicia to slow dance.
It is enough information to pique my awareness, but not enough to be shocked.
When I was in seventh grade a popular girl named Janet Beiderman showed up to school one day wearing a shiny new silver ID bracelet. It was a big topic of conversation among the girls, discussed all day in clumps of giggled whispers up and down the hallways.
For the life of me I couldn’t understand why Janet Biederman would want to identify herself as Fred, until it was explained to me that she was going steady.
And I wasn’t to tell anybody. Which wasn’t really a problem since I was literally the last one in school to know.
In the back seat of my mom’s car, being driven nervously to my first middle school dance with some friends, I made a pronouncement: If going steady means I have to change my name then I am not interested.
I was clearly ahead of my time, because it wasn’t until years later that the expression clueless became popular.
At any rate, this is how my mother replayed the conversation to me later. Apparently, while I was awkwardly navigating the new seventh grade social landscape with friends who owned ID bracelets that would probably never make it to a girl’s wrist any time soon, my mother was doing more than steering the car.
She was listening.
I was a little more careful talking freely in the back seat after that, although as a clueless seventh grader with braces and a goofy cowlick, I didn’t really have all that much to reveal about my life.
My daughter asks me to turn up the radio so I can’t hear the intimate chatter in the back. When she does this I switch the station to talk radio until she asks me to turn it down again. In the rear view mirror the girls exchange knowing looks and stifle giggles with their hands.
They are probably associating my choice of radio stations with the shiny spot on the back of my head. But it doesn’t stop them from talking.
I straightened my hair tonight.
But your hair is already straight.
I know, but it feels longer when I straighten it.
Julie irons her hair every day.
Doesn’t that hurt?
Not if you use an ironing board. It’s just hair.
You have really nice hair.
Oh thanks, so do you.
Hey dad, can you turn the station? Talk radio makes me car sick.
Your dad is nice. He should try Rogaine.
Oh my god, did you hear about Jake and Tracy at the movie theater?
After that I hear gasps and exclamations of shock, but not much else. In the rear view mirror the girls are all looking down and wiggling their thumbs. They are texting each other. They have just shut the virtual privacy window in my limousine.
I don’t feel bad eavesdropping in the car. But I realize there is a danger that someday soon I will learn more than I want to. Given what I have heard already, my imagination does not want to skip forward to the widespread intimate details of Jake and Tracy, no matter how innocent they may be in the moment.
Sometimes there is just too much information.
Talk radio is a lot easier to handle.