Precious minutes in the car

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“What time is practice over? I will pick you up.”

I have probably asked that question and promised that ride home a thousand times over the last 15 years. If there is a gymnasium, soccer field or baseball diamond in Wilson, there is a good chance I’ve spent some time in the parking lot waiting on one of my two sons to finish up practice. (Side note: soccer and basketball finish close to on time. Baseball never finishes on time.) I am not complaining. In fact, it is quite the opposite.

A couple of weeks ago, we had a major change in our household. My youngest son turned 16 and got his driver’s license. Now, my chauffeur services are no longer needed. In fact, he has openly taunted me that I do not have to pick him up anymore. He is pretty happy that he can handle getting home on his own now. It is a major step in the growing up process I know, and I am sure there are going to be many instances where it is going to be convenient, but it doesn’t mean I have to like it. I will admit to circling Fike High School the first day he had his license, around the time practice was supposed to be finished. Don’t laugh. Old habits are hard to break.

I do think I have figured out why this new arrangement has thrown me for such a loop as a parent. Through the years, my sons and I have had some great conversations on the ride home from practice. It’s always been some guaranteed father-son time. We have talked school, sports, girls and anything else that may have been on their minds on the way home. They would get in the car fired up from whatever practice they had just finished, give a rundown of what they did at practice and then go right into sharing what happened at school and the social scene that day.

As a parent, this is prime time to find out what is going on in their minds, and also to find out what is important to them at that stage in their lives. Simply put, the car ride home gives you some time to communicate with your child. It gives you a chance to recap the day and slow down a bit. If you add a couple of friends to the carpool, there is no telling what you will hear. Most of the time, I would just drive and listen.

The short drive home is important because we all know what happens when you get there. First, they have their daily responsibilities — homework, shower, food and maybe a chore or two — and then comes the distractions. Television, video games and social media are mainstays these days in every young person’s life. Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram and the video game Fortnight turns them into teenage zombies. They are incapable of putting the phone or controller down when they get locked in. Their willingness to talk goes right out the door. I loved television and video games with the best of them back in the day, but I did read a book for fun every now and then. I could put the book down if my parents wanted to hang out and shoot the breeze. Just saying.

All that being said, I know our youth have obligations, responsibilities and pressures growing up. Heck, I may even acknowledge it might be a little tougher now than it was 20 or 30 years ago. I understand the need for some down time or some “brain-dead” time. Everybody has to have a way to charge their batteries back up. I just want to know when I am going to get my guaranteed, uninterrupted, focused time back with my son every day.

So, as a parent, I’m going to have to come up with a new plan to make sure I’m still clued in on what’s going on his teenage world since the daily ride home from practice is a thing of the past. Parents have to stay on their toes and adapt, so that is what I am going to do. I am going to develop a new plan. I think I will make it a point to have a one-on-one dinner at least once a week. Or maybe I will just go hang out in his room every night until he looks up from his phone or television screen and wonders what I’m doing. I’m really not sure what my new plan is going to be yet, but I do know I’m going to make the effort to fill that daily “father-son” time we are now missing. It is that important.

Then again, I guess I could just take the easy way out. I could always stop giving him gas money.