There is a parenting theory that encourages parents to converse with their children in cars. When a driver and passenger are in a car, they are not facing each other; they don’t feel the same pressures of face-to-face conversation. Without the visual components of facial expressions and body language, conversations in cars are much like speaking with a wall – a wall that actually cares and responds, that is.
Looking back over the years, car conversations brought my mom and me together. In the car on the way to softball games, cross country meets, and the occasional shopping trip, we would talk about hefty topics, like puberty and college applications, and more petty gossip, like who recently underwent plastic surgery. Sometimes, if something was particularly nagging me, I would look forward to a trip to the grocery store with my mom just so I could talk with her. I remember a specific instance of driving to Safeway and finally finding the courage to tell her I needed more feminine hygiene products. Now, when I come home from college, I happily assume my position in the passenger seat and accompany her as she drives her “laps” to the bank, post office, and other daily errands, so I can catch up with home life and catch her up with my life.
Recently, my friend has been going through a rough time; his parents are divorcing and his girlfriend broke up with him. As we drove to his house to cook dinner last night, the car conversation inevitably turned to these two topics. Staring out the windows, watching the other cars on the expressway and the bikers on the side of the road, both of us could avoid feeling judged, yet still be heard. When we pulled into the driveway of his house, I expected the conversation to end with that unspoken protocol that car conversations usually do. Whenever my mom and I arrive at our destination, the conversation shifts to our game plan, we need milk, carrots, and eggs or we need to deposit this check, all prior awkwardness disregarded.
While my friend and I did devise our cooking game plan – I would shuck the corn and he would cut the chicken – once we began our tasks in the kitchen, the conversation started up where we had left off. Cars, it seems, are not the only places to stimulate the sorts of conversations that really open people up. Busying ourselves with chopping and sauteing, my friend and I talked about relationship struggles, families, running, music, and anything and everything else that crossed our minds.
“I’m really learning a lot about you this summer,” he said.
“Likewise,” I said.
Our dinner of stuffed tomatoes, chicken kebabs, and guacamole turned out perfectly. More importantly than that, our kitchen conversation brought us closer together and in a much more environmentally friendly and delicious manner than one could ever replicate in a car.