When A. was small and sitting facing backwards in her car seat while I drove, I began to curb my cursing at other drivers on the streets of San Francisco. Let’s be honest: the drivers here are the worst. The WORST. And I grew up in Boston and learned to drive on the BQE, so that’s saying something. I swear a lot here. Or I used to. With a passenger unaware of the rules of the road and unable to see their violators crossing my path, I had to take it down a notch: I didn’t want her thinking I was swearing at her. And right, yes, the swearing itself was probably out of order too.
“Dude,” started to permeate my ‘conversations’ with other drivers instead. As in, “Dude, what the [expletive now omitted]…?!” Or just, “Duuuuuuude#$)(#$! [expletive implied by tone and duration]”
Pretty soon, A. started asking in her new small voice, “See dude?” Short of mounting her in one of those rotating artillery nests on the roof of the car, that wasn’t going to happen. (Artillery isn’t for kids, no matter how many lanes ‘dude’ cut across to make an illegal turn.)
As her syntax evolved, her question did too: “Where’s ‘dude’?”
She’s lagging in her understanding of exactly how one should drive a car in heavy traffic (my way) and how rage can be compressed into sarcastic asides, but I applaud her curiosity and interest in the conversation at hand. She will make an excellent dinner party guest and a wonderful best friend.
At the playground the other day, it became clear that I may have to further curb my outbursts. A. was “driving” one of the play structures, spinning the wheel on the side of one of the towers and craning her neck around to the left and right and looking behind her.
“What are you doing, sweetheart?”
“Looking for ‘dude’.”
Hilarious, yes. Also:
They say that children imitate our behavior much more readily than they take the advice we so explicitly lay out for them. This is, in my experience, completely true. And it is a handy tool for revealing the hypocrisy in us all. While she is still just trying to identify this mysterious and always irritating ‘dude’ – before she realizes that ‘he’ is everywhere, not just a representative of the terrible drivers of my adopted city but of my unprocessed anxiety at the errands un-run, the laundry un-folded, the forgotten to-do, the breaths untaken, the pieces unwritten, and that international fame for as-yet-unspecified feats of selfless glory which has eluded me thus far, of all the hanging chads in the life of a full-time mother in a city that doesn’t quite suit her, before A. perceives the length of his reach with her child’s insight – the ‘dude’ has to go.
Because what I want her to see – in me and on the road ahead – is not an obstructing distraction, but a deliberate focus: for the moment, on the fun we’re having getting where we are going and how little it matters if we get there five minutes later. Five minutes is one more poorly-executed song in the car with her and me, our small team crossing a big red bridge on an adventure. I am no new age Polyanna (are there any where I come from?), but this drive – today’s and everyday’s – is so much more luminous and gratifying than anything I’d ever thought it would be that it silences me some days.
So I’m going to
goddam well focus on that while I’m the one driving, and A. will come across ‘dude’ in her own time, later, well-equipped with all the joy and resilience and extra singing I can provide today.
And any stray profanity she’s picked up, which can, on occasion, be enormously, cathartically helpful too.