Wednesday, April 7, 2010


I drove the carpool for the crew team a few days ago. Six 14-15 year old girls piled into the minivan and away we went. We were headed to the Occoquan River which is about a 30 minute drive south of Vienna, Virginia. The crew team practices Monday through Friday; they generally run their races (regattas) on the weekends.

The experience was eye opening in a number of ways. I’m amazed at the resiliency of parents of teenage girls. To say that they need stamina would be an understatement. I’m amazed that they are not totally deaf. The decibel level was certainly in the danger zone. Six girls all talking (shouting) at the same time, complete with laughs, giggles and the occasional random shriek.

I was also amazed at how invisible I was. For all intents and purposes, the car could have been driving itself. After the initial round of introductions and explanations of who I was and how I was related, I disappeared. The girls were courteous, well-mannered and seemed genuinely glad to meet me. But the moment I put the car in gear and drove out of the parking lot – I disappeared - which, I believe, could really be a good thing.

I was the proverbial fly on the wall. I could hear everything and they didn’t appear to be editing too much of what they were saying. They talked about all sorts of things – stories about school mates, discussions of teachers, comments on their doofy parents. They commented on passing cars and people in passing cars that reminded them of people they all knew. They laughed at the poor young man who tripped over his own feet on the sidewalk and went sprawling with his bike (a sympathetic laugh, by the way) accompanied by a chorus of “oh no – did you see that? -- poor guy!” They discussed their day at school and what happened in History class. They must have covered at least 30 different topics in that 30 minute drive.

On the surface it all sounds innocuous. But if you listen carefully, there are deeper things being discussed. Sympathy at a classmate’s loss of face, worry about fitting in, anxiety about school work and which college to choose, concerns about being ‘good enough’ and not letting people down. These deeper things seem to get discussed because I am invisible. By keeping my mouth shut and not attempting to engage with them and be a part of the discussion, I am privy to the more serious thoughts and emotions they are experiencing.

As a non-parent, I suspect this is a lesson to parents everywhere. As adults, we often believe that we need to talk, to give advice, to share our wisdom. We believe that it is maybe our responsibility to pass on our ‘wisdom’ or ‘knowledge’ to those younger. Perhaps that is our responsibility though, sometimes, all we may really be called to do is to be present, to keep our mouths shut and our ears open, and to drive the car.

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