I spent much of my childhood being driven around by my parents. This would be a poignant metaphor, but my statement is literal. If my mom wasn’t driving me to piano, singing class, or soccer, and my dad wasn’t driving me to one of several dance classes, I was accompanying my parents as they drove my brother to one of his various extra-curricular activities. Getting home each night felt like the end of a marathon. Though we all sat together at the table to eat dinner, my objective was always to eat as quickly as possible so that I could start doing my homework. And while my parents would try to inspire good conversation —asking us how our days were, what we learned, or who we spent time with—my brother and I were always too tired or too stressed to contribute anything of significance.
Very infrequently, when everyone was tired enough and we were in need of entertainment, my mom allowed us to turn on an episode of some “family show” (basically Full House or The Cosby Show) that we could enjoy together over dinner. My most vivid memory of these shows was that no matter what would happen in the episode, it would almost always end with the air cleared, an honest heart-to-heart between parent and child and some arguably valuable lesson. Though my family witnessed these moments together, they were not ones we replicated. Over time, it became clear to me that this was a distinct difference between my family and the ones I saw on television.
Coming from a culture where emotions aren’t openly expressed or discussed, I was never comfortable sitting at the foot of the bed admitting that I messed up and telling my parents that I loved them while music played in the background. It didn’t help that I was so private with my emotions in general (all my emotions lived in my journal). While I sometimes wished I could be “normal” and have open and honest conversations with my family like the ones I saw on television, I never knew how to initiate the moment, and when I tried, I felt like my stomach was swallowing itself.
So instead, when something really needed to be communicated, I let it fester until the last possible moment, then dropped it into conversation at the least opportune time. For example, the time I told my dad that I failed my first math quiz at my new school and that he needed to sign my notice of “low exam score.” I grabbed him as he was running out the door to a meeting. Choosing such moments allowed me to escape the palpable discomfort of a Danny Tanner teaching moment.
Or so I thought.
This past Christmas weekend, my family and I shared a number of car rides. It had been a while since the four of us were in a car together. We were seated in the same positions we always were in my youth: my dad driving, my brother behind him, my mom in the passenger seat, and me behind her. Our rides were unexpectedly long, and as was equally unexpected, I found myself initiating important conversations. Together, we shared opinions, stories, and concerns (and jokes). And in some ways, despite all that has changed over the years, the comfortable feeling of our sitting together in the car, just like old times, being open with one another, was the real holiday magic. All we needed was some Full House closing music.
The openness of these car conversations reminded me a lot of the ones we shared during my childhood.
What I didn’t realize growing up (and perhaps this demonstrates my mom and dad’s parenting genius) was that we were still having important conversations. They just weren’t happening in the common spaces of our home. It was in those frequent drives to soccer practice or those long drives to dance lessons during which I truly opened up to my parents. To me, car conversations were far more approachable than those in any other place. In a car, nobody could leave the conversation, both parties were focused, there was a definite end to the conversation (arriving at a destination), and no matter where our conversation took us, we were always moving forward.
This time of year can be overwhelming with its influx of cultural and social media presenting people’s picture perfect lives. Much like family television shows of the 90’s, they shed light on how different our own lives are from the ones we see around us. But the power of my car conversations give me confidence that this difference really doesn’t matter. What matters is that you find ways to connect with the people around you in a way that is comfortable for you. Whether that’s at the foot of the bed or with your foot on the gas pedal.