It’s only a five-minute drive from the comfort of my bed to my son’s school. There’s no bus service to the high school, so my backpack-wielding, youngest child must either walk or get a ride.
It’s only a five-minute drive, but it usually takes fifteen minutes or longer on a rainy, snowy, or can’t find the keys kind of morning. The delays are both predictable and unforeseen: waiting behind the ubiquitous line of buses at the drop-off door or getting stuck behind the painfully slow, post-holiday garbage truck.
It’s only a five-minute drive, but it’s often a thirty-minute endeavor crammed into my already time- crunched morning. My daily routine is totally thrown off. Instead of waking up and heading directly into the shower, I pull my hair into a ponytail and drag myself out the door, wearing the leggings and sweatshirt I pick up off my bedroom floor. I pray there will be absolutely no reason for me to step even one foot out of the car. I desperately avoid any possibility of a flat tire, a hit in the rear or the dreaded traffic stop for speeding in a school zone.
My son knows that I’m not a morning person and that I loathe the winter months. He, also, hates to be late for anything, especially school. So, while I’m still pondering the alarm on my iPhone, turns on the coffee maker and searches for my car keys (I never seem to put them in the same place).
The first few weeks of school are a bit tumultuous, but after fumbling through a plethora of radio stations: from heavy metal to NPR, we agree that “Chill” is the perfect compromise to keep us both awake without developing pounding headaches. My son complains that I drive too slow in the morning. He’s not wrong. I’m a zombie driver; with one hand on the wheel and the other holding my ceramic coffee mug.
Despite my lack of focus, I manage to get in some quality conversation with my sixteen-year-old. By asking him simple questions I’ve learned valuable information about his lucky locker combo, his Spanish teacher’s ex-husband and his best friend’s girlfriend’s runaway dog. I didn’t even know that his best friend had a girlfriend!
When you drive your child to school, it is the perfect time to have a conversation.
After all, when are you ever alone with your children with limited interruptions? Whenever is your child literally a captive audience? When my kids were young, I limited their video watching and screen time in the car to long road trips. During shorter rides, I’d engage them in conversations about anything and everything. We’d sing the alphabet, practice the multiplication table and name state capitols. I’d also always encourage my kids to think “outside the box.” I’d ask them about their perception of heaven, the magnitude of the sun or whether a denim jacket should ever be worn with blue jeans. When my kids weren’t in the mood to talk, I’d do all the talking. I’d explain the evidence rule of hearsay or the poetic brilliance of the lyrics to Pearl Jam’s “Black,” all while they were buckled in their booster seats.
Kids are sponges, they absorb everything we say and everything we do. Even when my kids weren’t old enough to understand or weren’t interested in what I was saying, I knew that some of it was seeping in their malleable minds. So, why not talk to your kids? Why not talk to your kids about anything and everything? Why not take the opportunity to talk to your kids when they’re sitting in the backseat of your car and have no other choice but to listen?
As a divorce lawyer, I handle contentious custody cases. There are parents who spend thousands of dollars on counsel fees arguing over which parent will be “picking up” and “dropping off” the kids. They insist that the driving time be “fair” and “even.” Sometimes parents genuinely want a fair amount of quality time, but other times, the arguing is merely for the sake of arguing.
There Are Benefits to Spending Even Limited Time With Your Kids
Regardless of the reason, it’s not always easy for parents to realize, in the heat of a custody dispute, that there’s a benefit to spending their already limited time with their kids in a car, on a bus or on a crowded subway. However, the parent transporting the child is generally afforded an extra fifteen minutes to account for traffic or a frantic search for a child’s missing right shoe or that barely used algebra textbook. That additional fifteen minutes can add up to a lot of extra parenting time over months and years.
I sometimes nudge clients not to fight over the driving. Sometimes, driving is a real issue. Sometimes there are work commitments or health issues. But, sometimes, the argument is merely about the parents’ anger and animosity towards each other and not about driving at all.
Enjoy the Small Moments While You Can
My son has his Learner’s Permit. He’ll soon be taking his road test. Before I know it, he’ll be packing up for college and I’ll trade in my SUV for a two-door coupe. Your child will grow up also. Your child will grow before you can clean out the last Cheerio from under the passenger seat. So, while your kid is still a kid… drive your kid to soccer practice, drive your kid to his friend’s house on the other side of town. If you’re sharing custody with another parent, then drive your kid to the other parent’s house. Drive your kid on your weekend. Drive your kid when it’s not your weekend. Drive your kid to that soccer tournament three states away. Drive your kid to the hockey rink at five in the morning. Drive your kid, because before you know it, you’ll be wishing you were stuck in a sweltering car with a whining four-year-old or sitting in traffic with a backseat of selfie-taking, voice- screeching teenage girls.
Enjoy driving with your kids; savor the experience, bank it, make the most of it. Put your phones away. Blast the radio. Belt out a song. Talk about the president. Talk about the weather. Whatever you do, take all the time you can get, because I guarantee that someday you’ll miss it. Someday you’ll wish you had it back. You will, you will, you will wish you could wake up before the sun on a cold, winter morning and drive your child to school.
Jennifer Burgess is a divorce and family law attorney with expertise in the field of high-conflict divorce and custody matters. Ms. Burgess is a member of the New York City Bar Association and the Nassau County Bar Association Matrimonial Law Committee. Ms. Burgess is a Senior Associate at the law firm of Jill C. Stone, Esq., P.C., located in Garden City, New York. www.jstonelaw.com