This week was the last time for me to supervise my son’s driving on the water polo club practice night. It was special, because for the first time we dropped everyone off without any hitting or elbowing going on in the back seat. The solution: tacos and asking nicely.
My oldest son is learning to drive this year. He’s passed the driveling class and has a restricted license. Oldest son is in a water polo club this summer with three other high school teammates. One night a week it’s my turn to supervise the carpool since none of them can drive alone yet. It occurred to me last night that it’s like carpooling for an hour each way in Chicago rush hour traffic with four little Beavises and a box of granola bars. Who knew teenage boys were so interesting.
Don’t get me wrong, these are nice teenagers and I like spending time with them. Water polo players are their own fascinating bunch to begin with. It takes a person with a certain personality to enjoy being drowned for a couple of hours every day for “fun.” The trip to practice is different from the trip back.
Driving to practice, everyone is full of energy and eager to talk about summer school, current events, and make jokes. Everyone knows the rules to not bother or distract the driver, my son. On the way home, after two hours of treading water, ball passing and drowning defense drills, they tumble into the car like fish out of water, smelling like chlorine and we begin the hour drive back home. They are exhausted, sometimes too exhausted to do more than listen to the radio. But some nights, like last night, the coach hasn’t expended all their energy and they are revved up. They fuss about who is going to sit in the middle. They elbow each other and throw mild insults. It usually helps for me to start a game of ‘name that tune’ for the radio, with me being the referee and final authority on matters of the 1970’s through 1990’s without consulting Shazam.
Since last night was my last night for carpool for the summer season, I suggested oldest son practice his driving skills at the drive thru window of Taco Bell on the trip home. I asked them to be sweet and not get taco contents all over my car. Usually I bring them a small snack for the long ride home because they’ve burned all their calories and they are starving, like a box of goldfish, pretzels, or granola bars, so the tacos were new and different.
The box of tacos entered the car and the feeding frenzy began. It’s usually like this when the snacks are handed into the back seat. It’s like tossing a baby seal into a pod of orcas. Oldest son got upset when he learned that as driver, he couldn’t have his taco until he stopped at a red light, it’s my rules. Then I had to negotiate a truce over the hot sauce and no, you aren’t going to have a fire sauce eating dare contest tonight, sorry. I’m such a kill joy.
A dozen tacos are inhaled inside 3 blocks, and we’re back to name that tune to pass the rest of the hour. I looked over at my oldest son, driving much better in the dark than at the beginning of summer, and smile. In a couple of months his driving restriction will be lifted and he will be able to drive without me. He’ll be fine, but I’ll have less time with him and his friends. To listen to them ha ha- ha ha like Beavis to each other’s silly jokes and hear about their history papers that are due at the end of the week. We’ll enter the next stage, where I wait for them to check in and tell me they have arrived and are OK.
The car pool is a sacred space for parents of teenagers, it’s where you have many important conversations and spend quality time. My advice is to always volunteer for the carpool. Even though the car smells like chlorine and they laugh with that annoying laugh and you have to tell them to stop hitting each other and there are goldfish crumbs to vacuum up the next day. It’s all worth it and I’ll miss it.
Musical pairing: “On the Road Again,” by Willie Nelson, 1980.