Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Bag in the Other Mom’s Minivan: What I’ve Learned as a Semi-Professional Teen Transporter

I drive a lot of teenagers, and I drive them many places. I do all this without benefit of space (I drive a Beetle) or ability (I favor the “crazy old granny in the slow lane” school of driving). What I do have are a flexible schedule and an open heart, so my services, such as they are, are frequently requested. Sometimes I think that my most cherished charasteristic as a mother is my ability to keep my schedule clear of pressing appointments between three and five p.m., when everyone needs to get to rehearsal.

The kids I drive are uniformly kind-hearted and grateful. The chorus of thank-you’s I receive at the end of each trip would do their parents proud. And sometimes they even forget that I’m in the car, which is when I get to hear the really good dish.

In addition to occasional gossip tidbits, I’ve picked up some other pointers along the way. These are old news to those who spend most of their time organizing herds of teens, so to all the youth directors and program planners and field trip coordinators who toil in the fields of eternal adolescence, I offer a respectful honk of my chock-full-o-teens car as I pass your minivan on the highway.

The Use of Antennae for Silent Battle Planning
I grew up with much older siblings who were teens when I was a wee tot, so perhaps that informs my paradigm that teenagers use the phone to make their plans. By this, I mean that I think they will use their actual voices with one another. And that’s what I keep expecting, even though it never, ever happens. When I was a child, our house phone was an avocado green number with a standard-length cord, so teen plans were easily overheard by anyone who happened to be in the kitchen. I always knew who was going where, and so did anyone else within earshot.

Not so these days, which is fine (I am all for quiet), except that it’s often very surprising. In the hour before we are leaving for some event, I barely notice Mary Katherine tapping away on her phone. Then, ten minutes before we need to leave, she provides the rundown of kids and addresses for which pickups are required. 

Every single time, I am dumbfounded. “How did she gain all this information without speaking?” I marvel. I imagine masses of teens rubbing their antennae together and communicating the secret location of the colony’s treasure, like very large and fashionably dressed insects. I am in awe of their stealthy ability to plan complex battle arrangements in total silence, like the Great Mime Army of Minneapolis.

The Hotel California Factor
You took the gang to the movie, or the mall, or to see a fellow actor's show. It may seem to you as if it’s all over now, everyone is tired, and it’s time to go home. You even have all seven -- where’s that short kid? Oh, there he is—eight of your charges standing by.

Not so fast. I have spent more time waiting to leave events with teenagers than I’ve spent at the events themselves. Bladders get smaller as the evening progresses. Purses have been left behind and must be frantically searched for. One girl goes missing and everyone is worried that she’s Freaking Out about seeing Chandler and Kaelynne together, whoever they are. And there is always, always a bag in some other mom’s minivan that you have to wait around to retrieve. As the Eagles more or less said, You can stand by the exit looking at your watch and sighing all you want, but you can never leave.

And that bag?  The one in the minivan you had to wait for? This will be the very same bag that gets left in your trunk 45 minutes later, a fact you will discover only after you’ve dropped everyone else at their homes and are pulling into your driveway. From the backseat, your up-to-now silent teen will provide the antennae-delivered update: “You have to turn around. Her algebra book is in that bag, and she has to have it tonight.” Put it in “R,” honey, and don’t expect to be in bed before midnight.

The Group Laugh
Everything is funnier when you’re transporting a large mass of teenagers. The guy crabwalking across the street? People will howl and hold their sides and wet their pants. The man at the bus stop, reading a book?  See him two days in a row and he becomes the stuff of hysterical legend. Plus, if nothing especially funny seems to be happening at the moment, the kids who weren’t around for the crabwalker can be filled in on the hilarious details, or Nathalie can start shouting “Mom” at puzzled passersby (gets a laugh every time, at least inside the vehicle).

So, here's what I've learned about transporting teenagers:  I never know what’s going on, I never, ever get back home at a decent hour, but I have some good really laughs about that crabwalking guy along the way.

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