I miss driving around town with my son. I’m not sure he would agree, but I feel my parenting goes up a notch when we’re side by side in that confined space and I can impart maternal wisdom, controlling our destinies for the fifteen minutes it takes to get to swimming, a haircut or, on a great day, REI. On the cusp of teenhood, he asks some pretty big questions, but he would be the first to tell you (and it will come as no surprise to anyone in my inner, outer or any circle) that I do most of the talking.
“Here’s the thing about love,” I’ll say – or people, dogs, school, life or Jim and Pam from The Office – followed by a brilliant insight only someone with my quota of laps around the sun could impart with any due authority. He seems to be listening, some of the time.
I do think I got his attention with my thoughts on Road Rage.
“Here’s the thing about being a jackass,” I remarked shortly after we were cut off, yet again, on a narrow side street as he scrambled to get into his swimsuit undetected by the other driver who was too busy trying to clear my side mirror. There’s the option of lifting your palm, or even just five fingers, off the wheel to say thanks, hello, I got you – and there’s the alternative of lifting your whole hand, turning your wrist 180 degrees and brandishing your middle finger – including the requisite waving, pumping and shouting involved in ensuring that the other guy has seen you. “It takes a lot less energy to be kind.”
Lately, though, it feels like kindness is less the exception than the rule as we crave more connection and contact, staring at the blazing mirage of a finish line at the end of all of this. And I would suggest, if my son were beside me in the car with his swimsuit securely on and his backpack on his lap, that some day the bird flippers will be right back out on the road among us, expending their pent-up grievances. But I’m betting on the kindness of strangers. The burden of bitterness is ours to flip.
Shelley Tatum Kieran is a partner at MOCA+