The car is one of the best vehicles (no pun intended… okay, maybe a little pun intended) for conversation in today’s hectic, technology saturated world. Even though the captive audience might be distracted by a phone (and in some cars the t.v.), they can’t run or hide from the “community” forced upon them during a car ride.

And I do mean forced. The other day upon carpool pick-up, one of mine tried to get in the back seat to avoid me. The mere gesture instantly zipped his warning flag to high mast – something happened at school he didn’t want me to know. I made him ride shot gun, fully aware that our conversation would consist of nothing more than grunts; but at least he knows I’m stuck to him (both in love and accountability).

I don’t get it. If I were them and I wanted to hide an offense, I would hop in the car and start blabbing about some totally unrelated issues instead of trying to slurk into the backseat unnoticed. Of course my eagle-eyed mother would have figured out that tactic, too. Maybe there’s no way around Mom.

Friday’s car-talk went something like this: (Of course, names have been changed to protect the innocent.)

Back-seat riders:
“Jane has a crush on me,” 3rd-row boy comments.
“How do you know?” middle-row older girl retorts.
“Sue told me.”
Uncontrolled giggles, coupled with “Eeeewww!” from 3rd-row girl.
“Hey, don’t make fun of her. I like her… she’s nice,” other 3rd-row girl.
Middle-row older girl to older friend, “Jane’s the pudgy one everyone makes fun of….. I think she’s cute.”

Next Conversation:
“Did you know that Sarah has a boyfriend.” back seat girl.
“What?!! No she doesn’t.” older middle-seat girl.
“That’s what Mary told me…. Her older sister is friends with Sarah. So she knows.”
“Well… just so you know, Sarah Boldhas been my friend since we were 7… and I know everything about her! She doesn’t have a boyfriend. And she would be really mad at whoever was spreading that. Just so you know.”

Hmmm. Prickly. Welcome to today’s teachable moment. Gossip. Obviously some are more prone to it than others. Even the ones not participating had quite the judgmental, “I’m older and better than you” sting in their attempt to stop it.

Side-line observer and taxi-driver, I take my time to jump in and referee. I dutifully drive down the “words can hurt” road followed by a merge onto the “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say it at all” highway. I try to avoid corny analogies and encourage them to think about how they would feel if a carload of kids were talking about them.

Even as I’m doing it, I find myself mentally jumping to my own lunch earlier that day. My friend and I were sitting next to a table of two moms and their kids. They were talking about someone who apparently had plenty of questionable stuff going on in her life. The two were oblivious to those around who couldn’t help but hear the saga and their judgment. My friend, who is great about not gossiping, lamented their actions and the little ears taking it all in.

The car, the lunch, the whole scene compelled me to examine my own actions. How many times am I on the phone negatively commenting about someone as my kids listen on? Have I been at lunch, standing at a kids sporting event, talking with a neighbor in my front yard … gossiping about someone I know, all in the name of helping, encouraging, avoiding, maybe even “praying” for them? I’ve got to be so aware of what I’m modeling. The eyes and ears around me, no matter the age, are taking it all in. Keen on my actions … not just my words. There are much more productive methods to handle issues besides idle chatter about someone or something!

As I conclude my car talk wordy encouragement (otherwise known as a “lecture”), I steer the topic of conversation to something less gossipy and judgmental, then turn to Sister Save-A-Lot sitting in the front seat beside me.

“Did you get what I was saying?”
She smiles at me and earnestly replies, “All I hear is ‘blah, blah, blah’, Mom.”

I’m not kidding. She actually said that. (I’ve always felt like a Far-Side cartoon. Now I know it’s true!) Point in case, they’re watching my actions more than listening to my words.

Thanks for walking the road with me :)

Tune in Wednesday for the terrific Sue Bohlin and her encouraging Table Talk. :)

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