Thursday, September 29, 2011

Car Talk

I've always thought if I were a child psychologist, I'd conduct my sessions in a minivan or other vehicle. My boys have always opened up to me during our incessant car rides around town, and I'm not sure whether it's the comfort of the ride or the fact that no eye contact is made (other than my surreptitious looking into the rear-view mirror to check out their expressions), but they often divulge their darkest thoughts and ask their deepest questions when I'm ferrying them out and about. Yesterday, Oliver and I listened to NPR on our way to watch Henry play flag football on the other side of town after school and were mesmerized by a story about a woman who was recently caught and arrested in Saudi Arabia for driving without a license. Because of strict Muslim law, this woman was convicted and given the punishment of ten lashes. And not with a wet noodle.

What's a lash? Oliver asked.

A whipping, I replied. Oliver gasped.

Then the conversation veered off into women and the Muslim religion, the United States' relationship to Saudi Arabia and oil and all that stuff in terms that I believed a 10 year old could understand.

That's why I don't like religion, Mom, Oliver said. It causes a lot of problems.

A few minutes later, Oliver piped up that he had been selling popcorn for the Cub Scouts in our neighborhood, and one of his friend's mothers (and my friend), who happens to be gay and is married to another woman, told him that she didn't like the Cub Scouts organization because it discriminated against gays.

My heart sunk. This is an issue that I've long struggled with -- as long as Oliver has been in and relished everything having to do with Cub Scouts. It's sort of paralyzed me, to tell you the truth. I love Oliver's Cub Scout troop and experience -- he's been doing it for nearly four years and thrives there, and I've turned a blind eye to the obvious: the Boy Scouts of America have a long history of discrimination against people of color (now overturned) and homosexuality. I told Oliver these things and confessed that I'd struggled with them over the years.

Why didn't you tell me that, Mom? he asked. Oliver has several friends who have two mothers or two fathers. He's shared the podium with them at our school on No Name-Calling Week when he passionately stood in front of the entire student body and educated them about the use of the word retard.

Does it make you not want to be a Cub Scout? I asked.

Sort of, Oliver said. We were quiet for a bit, and I gathered my thoughts and took my opinions and stuffed them into a tiny compartment and told him that I thought we could work within an organization to educate people about what we knew was the right thing. I told him that I hoped our Cub Scout troop was enormously tolerant, and I told him that our pack leader, an African American, had shared his own story of discrimination back in the day when he had joined the scouts in La Jolla, California. I told him a little about Don't Ask Don't Tell being overturned last week, how long it had taken this country to do that but that I believed whenever people are oppressed, whenever their rights are trampled upon -- whether they are women or people of color (other than white) or homosexual -- they eventually fight and push and right the wrong. I told him that we had to support these things and we should think about how we could support them.

We didn't say much after that, just sat there in the car, thinking.


  1. Great conversation! I heard that airing about the woman in Saudi Arabia. Yikes! My young nephew is there working before applying to grad school. It will be
    interesting to debrief him when he returns home.

    Oliver seems very astute and would be a good "cub" to work on tolerance within the organization.


  2. NPR rocks. I love the way it opens up topics for discussion in my car, too.

    And speaking of "car talk," I have noticed that the girls in my carpool talk about the darndest things on our way to or from school. It is as if they have completely forgotten that an adult is present and they open up tremendously. I just shut up and soak it all in.

    I read somewhere that if a girl/woman isn't making eye contact with you when you're speaking, they aren't really paying attention. But if a boy/man isn't making eye contact, it means he is paying attention. Boys/men are much more visually stimulated, so if they are looking at you, their thoughts quickly drift to your eye color or what you're wearing or that piece of spinach between your teeth. When their eyes are allowed to roam, they are actually processing what you're saying because their visual sense is "busy."

  3. Beautiful. Just beautiful. Cars do provide a safe space somehow. I love Oliver. He's such a fine, fine boy.

  4. I once read a book called "My Monastery is my Minivan" ... true isn't it? The things we learn and think about and yes, pray about, within the confines of that space.

    That Oliver is something. I really need to spend more time with him. All of you actually.

  5. That was a heck of a conversation! :-) I love you son's reaction to the lash story. I would say that, yes, organised religion causes more problems than it purports to solve. And I understand your predicament about the Scouts. It's the same with certain groups and institutions over here.

    Greetings from London.

  6. I love that you were both able to speak, to listen, to share ideas and to express your honest feelings in a safe and comfortable way. What a great example of mindful, loving parenting!

  7. Thank God for mothers like you and boys like Oliver.

    I struggled with this, too, when my son was a cub scout, and i wish I had had as coherent and wise an answer as you did.

  8. I share your observation about driving and mothering in L.A. It was the best talking time. I've heard though, that as kids get phones earlier and earlier, it's important to define the car as a "no texting zone." Otherwise those opportunities will be lost. We need those moments as mothers. What an important conversation you had.

  9. That's quite a boy you have he'll be reading Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens....?

  10. My boy does his best talking in the car as well.

    We had the same concerns during our cub scout years, and eventually my boy gave it up.

  11. *sigh* I do adore you.

    We just received a flyer for boy scouts and I don't know what to do - yes, for all the reasons you pointed out + he should learn how to build a fire w/out the cheater logs his dad likes, but no - because, sorry kid, Uncle M won't be able to join you while you roast marshmallows over said fire?

  12. On my honor,
    I will do my best
    to do my duty to God
    and my country,
    to help others at all times,
    to honor their uniqueness, their integrity,
    to listen to young scouts,
    especially when their name is Oliver,
    and read his mom's lovely posts,
    because this is what is wise, right and good.

  13. In addition the Boy Scouts have been challenged regarding how a boy must have an organized religion. The Boy Scouts have won in court cases in which those who say they are spiritual but choose not to go to a house of religion. Boy Scouts state you must believe in a God (and go to a church, temple, synagogue, etc.) and not be an atheist or agnostic. Girl Scouts do not state this.

  14. Your talking with your children and their responses make me hopeful and filled with joy for the youth of our nation. Thank you.

  15. My boys and I also have had some great talks in the car, and I, too, have wondered what it is about being in the car that encourages those discussions.

    P.S. You and Oliver are both amazing.

  16. So funny. I wrote about talking to my girls in the car today too! Mine didn't go quite as well.

  17. You are such a good mom, Elizabeth! Hugs and kudos from here. x0 N2

  18. I've nothing to add. As usual, you handled it beautifully and intelligently. What a good conversation.

  19. Oliver, what an insightful man-child. I think you may just have a humanitarian/advocate on your hands Elizabeth! Maybe he will be the one to stand up to this organization that discriminates.

  20. PS- My kids seem to like to talk to me in the car too. On the show "Modern Family" the car is referred to the car as, "The Cone of Trust". LOL

  21. You are so right...what is it about the car? Such a thoughtful discussion, thank you for sharing it.

  22. My father used to always volunteer to drive me and my friends home from swim team practice, to basketball games, etc. As an adult, he told me it was because he learned all about me, my friends and what was going on in our lives. I do the same for my children. My son is also a boy scout and has been in the organization since first grade. Many, if not all of the other parents involved in his den have similar views to yours and my own on respecting lifestyle and religious choices. My good friend applied for a job at BSA and was shocked by the statement she was asked to sign before submitting it having to do with her religious beliefs and sexuality. She was our pack leader for 4 years prior to applying for the job and devoted countless unpaid hours to the organization. Needless to say the job application was never completed. What BSA advocates and what actually occurs in the individual dens are usually two different things... thank heaven!

  23. What a great post!
    I too, love the conversations that transpire on our car journey's. The questions, the discussions, the reverie.
    He is a smart young man, sensitive to the world around him, signs of a job well done Mom. Well done indeed.

  24. You are amazing and so is he. I got chills and weepy reading this. This is true parenting. This is lovely. Thank you for the hope you give, for sharing your dear family too.

  25. I missed this the first time around!

    My son is a new Tiger Cub. We struggle with their history, but luckily the individual packs seem to be so much more tolerant than the old fuddy duddies at headquarters.

    Several of my very best guy friends were scouts, Eagle scouts even. One boy is gay, and he's actually spoken out to the BSA (with his Eagle Scout uniform on! LOVE HIM!!!) about the intolerance. Things are getting better. It will get better.

    It's an institution that is just so wonderful, otherwise, you know? It's a tough call. Maybe love and light will blow the hurt out from the inside, like when my friend made his speech in his uniform. I wasn't there, but he told me he opened it with, "My name is Michael R., I'm an Eagle Scout, and I'm gay."

    My son LOVES the scouts. It's the only thing he seems to love extracurricular-ly (not a word). All boys who love to hike and climb trees and run wild and help others. Thank you for writing about this. Your boy is such a beautiful soul.



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