Morning Commute

>> Saturday, April 12, 2008

“Can you drive this morning? I have a headache.”

Michael sniffs and rubs his sinuses. Usually, he drives in the morning and I drive in the afternoon. But today his sinuses are bothering him and his head hurts too much to concentrate. “Sure, I’ll drive. Want some Excedrin?”

And so our weekday morning begins.

Samantha is wearing her new birthday dress -- crushed black velvet with red trim. She looks like an angel. Despite his throbbing head, Michael grabs the camera and conducts a photo session with Samantha in the front yard. Lizzy joins them. We’re going to be late, but hopefully we’ll remember the pictures and not the tension that follows as we all scramble to get into the car.

15 minutes later we drive along the 52 on the way to school and work. The girls are eating Froot Loops and bagels and Michael leans back in his seat, closing his eyes.

Lizzy suddenly bursts out singing.

Michael jolts awake. “Can you sing lower?” he asks, holding his head. As usual, Lizzy interprets him literally and sings again loudly, but this time in a deep baritone, as if they rehearsed this comical routine.

“Why are you laughing?” Samantha asks us, delivering the final punch line.

Michael leans forward and puts The Who (the early years) in the CD player. It’s a really beautiful morning, one of those days when the sun is shining in some places and it’s cloudy and raining in others. From our vantage point at the top of the mountain we can see across the San Diego valley.

I can see for miles, and miles, and miles, and miles...

Samantha is not interested in The Who and asks if she can listen to her songs on her little pink CD player. Michael fidgets with it for five minutes, hoping that once the girls are merrily absorbed in Disney songs, they will be quiet and he will finally be able to rest.

It works in part -- he forgot about me.

“That show scared me last night,” I say. The silence has given my brain an opening and the thoughts come pouring in. The night before, we watched a documentary about the internet and kids and sex and so on. Scary stuff.

“Do you really think the internet is today’s Rock and Roll?” I ask. The documentary used this phrase to describe the panic parents feel about the internet and how similar it is to the fear inspired by Rock and Roll. Michael grunts with his eyes closed -- he’s listening to The Who. I don’t blame him.

More music, more music, more music...

“I’m scared that when they’re teenagers, we won’t be able to control the girls and the images they portray of themselves on the internet. I’m scared of the people who might see them on MySpace. What if they try to be all... sexy?”


“I’m afraid of the disconnect between the games the girls are going to play online and reality. I’m afraid they’ll amplify the thoughts in their head until they become real -- but not all thoughts are supposed to become real. How will they draw the line between fantasy and reality?”

We drive under a cloud and it begins to rain. Michael’s head hurts too much to drive, yet I expect him to contemplate internet perils and philosophy. Like me, he has no answers. My Generation plays on the stereo.

“I first heard My Generation on the radio,” Michael reflects. “I called the radio station and requested it because I’d read about The Who and the station played it. This was during the days when a DJ actually answered the phone. After I heard it, I bought Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy...”

“Oh yea?” I say and smile, thinking of Michael as a young boy discovering his first musical influences. However, my thoughts are stubborn and single-minded and become fearful again.

“Remember that movie ‘Bully’ - where those kids fantasized about killing the school bully and then they actually did it?” I ask. “See, that’s what I’m afraid of. I’m afraid that with the internet, kids will start to lose the distinction between random crazy-ass thoughts in their heads and reality.”

We drive on in silence. There are still no answers. It occurs to me that this is what the documentary meant -- that the internet is the Rock and Roll of today. I’m reacting like a scared parent from the 50’s. I take a deep, therapeutic breath and a thought flashes in my mind. Perhaps the problem is control. We try to control our children because we want to protect them and do what we think it best for them -- whatever that means. But if we stopped trying to control them...

OK, so that’s not going to happen. But as our children grow older, our instinct to control them morphs into a lack of faith in their judgment. We have a hard time letting go of the memories of them stumbling into the street as toddlers, of tampering with electrical outlets and pulling the cat’s tail. These people can’t think for themselves, can they? But at some point we have to have faith in them -- faith that we’ve taught them well and enabled them to make smart decisions. And at the same time, we also have to accept that we can’t always control them.

I’m not feeling any better. The girls are too silent today and my thoughts are having a field-day. Michael presses a button on the stereo and The Seeker plays on the stereo.

I’m a seeker, I’ve been searching low and high...

“I really liked what Penn Jillet said the other night,” I say. Finally my thoughts have found a pleasant place to land. “He really has faith in people. I always assumed he would be cynic [because of his dark comedy]. But he believes our kids are going to grow up with more skills than we ever had. They’ll know how to handle it.” He’s right, of course. This is their world, and our children will most likely develop the tools they need to deal with the internet and the crazy inrush of overwhelming media stimulation.

I enjoy the momentary peace these thoughts bring. It's amazing what a little faith can do. The Who songs continue to punctuate the commute, intermingled with rain, traffic and sunshine. The girls are suddenly awake -- their CD has ended.

“No! I don’t want it!” Samantha yells from the back seat. She throws her baggy onto the floor. “I want Froot Loops!”

Michael and I shift and stretch slightly as our girls bring us to the Here and Now. They’re good at that.

“Each of you had a complete bag of bread and Froot Loops. What happened?” Michael asks. For the next few minutes, there is much debate over Froot Loops and Being Nice and how to Apologize. Meanwhile, I drive on in a cocoon of silence...

Why is it that when we love, we have to control? The more we love someone, the more we want to control them. Not only where they go and what they do, but what they say and how they respond...

“It’s crooked, Daddy!” Michael puts another CD in the CD player for the girls, but the songs are skipping.

“My headphone’s aren’t working!” Samantha struggles to position them onto her head.

“Ahhh! I can’t reach my blue Froot Loop!” Lizzy hollers in exasperation.

It occurs to me that if you have a headache and want to rest, one would do better to drive the car than to sit in the passenger seat and attend to every little girl’s whim.

“Just reach into the bag and pull it out,” Michael suggests.

I can’t!” Lizzy insists.

“Here, I’ll help you.” Michael contorts around the front seat, grabbing for her baggy and extracting the difficult blue Froot Loop.

“You’re a good Daddy,” I say.

I’m a boy, I’m a boy, but my mother won’t admit it...

The Who's "I'm a Boy" plays on the stereo. Surrounded by girls with various needs, I wonder if listening to this isn’t somehow therapeutic for Michael.

I’m a man, I’m a man...

“Wake up,” I say to the car in front of us. “Move faster, please...”

“What is 90 + 10 + 1?” Elizabeth asks.

“Lizzy, I’m too tired to answer Math questions,” Michael says.

“Why is my book bent?” Lizzy asks instead.

“Where’s Baby Doll?” Samantha wants to know.

“Guys, I want to listen to my song!” Michael insists. I was wondering when he would reach his limit -- I could tell it was getting close. “I’m turning myself off right now. Zzzzt! There. I’m off. I can’t hear you anymore.”

Elizabeth isn’t convinced. “I know you can hear me, Daddy...” she says slyly.

We’re finally off the highway and getting close to daycare. Samantha starts coughing. We’re nervous because traditionally this is where she throws up in the car. “Are you OK?” we ask in unison. “Take a deep breath.” I roll down her window. Samantha zips her lips with her fingers.

“If I zip my lips,” she says, “then I won’t throw up.”

“Good thinking,” I say.

Finally we arrive at daycare. I take Elizabeth to her class, and Michael takes Samantha to hers. Several minutes later we meet back at the car.

“Lizzy didn’t want to let go today,” I say.

“Neither did Samantha.”

We’re almost at work and I search the landscape. “There’s gotta be a rainbow out there somewhere. It’s raining. It’s sunny. I can’t believe we haven’t seen a rainbow.”

“Should I play the “Rainbow” song for you?” Michael teases. I have a love/hate relationship with this song. It’s so sappy it makes me gag -- and it’s sung by the Brady Bunch, no less. But Samantha really likes it and when she sings it, she sounds so sweet that the song has now attached itself to my heart like a slimy little alien with big blue Disney eyes. Michael searches through his iPod and finds the tune.

Gonna find a raaaainbow, find a Raaaainbow...

I smile and hum along, despite myself.

Just as the song ends, I pull in front of Michael’s office. It’s drizzling outside. He gets out and fishes through the trunk of the car.

“Is my raincoat up there?” he asks.

“No, it’s not. Aren’t there umbrellas back there?”

“Mmmm... only fruity ones.”


“Let’s see, my choices are a giant green frog umbrella or a Winnie the Poo umbrella.”

I chuckle. “Well, it’s better than getting wet.”

“Uh, no -- it’s not.”

Michael closes the trunk, hunches over against the rain and walks to his office.

“I love you,” I call out to him, but he doesn’t hear me. Ten minutes later, I walk into my cubicle, fix some Emergen-C, and find my rainbow:

Thank You, sweety, for taking care of the girls while I fret about things we can’t always control. Thanks for giving me the luxury to ponder and philosophize while you adjust CD players, retrive Froot Loops and answer math questions -- all with a headache. I'll search for the meaning of life, while you install the car seats, OK? And Thank You, girls, for always bringing me back to the Here and Now. Otherwise, I'd spend my days lost in the Over There and Back Then.

If I had to be stuck in a car with anybody, it would be you guys.

Gonna find a raaaainbow, find a Raaaainbow...

Damned Brady Bunch.


Dating Trooper - Dating is Warfare April 13, 2008 at 12:46 PM  

Try to remember this: you were once a little creature that put your fingers in sockets and pulled the cat's tail too. And now look what you are capable of doing (and controlling) as a big girl! One day your girls will be as big and competent and controlling as you are now.....
Bon voyage! Have a wonderful trip.

Michele April 15, 2008 at 7:38 PM  

I have to say I'm a bit jealous that you guys all get to ride to work/daycare together. Even though it's chaotic, it really sounds like a great way to spend extra time together. Neil and I used to work in the same office so we got to carpool but no more. We're on opposite sides of the city. Enjoy every minute of the chaos : )

Dawn April 21, 2008 at 11:33 AM  

I hate the Brady Bunch. So perfect and all their problems are solved with a smile and by the end of the episode.

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