While God might really be my co-pilot, and boy howdy, there have been more than a few days and weeks, an hour here and there, I would have loved for Jesus to take the wheel, a few weekends ago I had the pleasure of having my seventeen year old son riding “shotty”. (I am soooo flippin hip, I don’t know how anyone can keep up.) We spent the weekend better-late-than-never checking out colleges and touring a thousand some odd miles of New York State. Being a self-proclaimed efficiency expert, we also fit in visits with family and friends, a little shopping, home repair and attempts at winterizing the cottage in the Adirondacks, while learning a little more about ourselves and each other along the way.
The driving to distraction joy ride also included allowing the 17 year old to drive on the North Way at 65+ miles per hour in the black of night. I did not allow the older two to do this. Sitting in the death seat while a teen gets all adrenalined out on speed is not my idea of fun. I don’t think he’ll ask to do it again anytime soon. He’s welcome to drive himself and he’s very capable, me riding “shotty” with him, not so much. See? Learning all about ourselves and each other….
Car rides with teenagers can be such a gift, or just as easily a scourge and there is really no scientific or spiritual way to determine which way things may go. Prayer helps, or at least it doesn’t hurt. And why not, your fists are probably all clenched or holding on to the safety handle, why not fold them in prayer before self-administering your last rites or kissing your ass goodbye. Bringing Mason Jennings, Carrie Underwood, and Tracy Chapman along provide pathways to Buddha, Krishna, God and Jesus. Michael McDonald helps with Yahweh. Great tunes in the car always help provide background music for conversation if not all out miracles.
He, of seventeen, sort of asked if we could listen to “his” music while disconnecting my iPhone with my iTunes and connecting his. I don’t resist. A few too many rousing traditional songs, reels, and jigs by Jameson’s Revenge, and some contemporary, but equaling rousing tyrannical tunes by Mumford and Sons from my playlist entitled “Irish” could rouse up or wear down the best of us. He listens to his own contemporary playlist. Kanye, JayZ, Whiz Khalifa, Lil Wayne and Lupe Fiasco. Several songs that he plays are hand-picked for me. They all seem to have these riffs of 70’s rhythm and blues undercurrents. Wait! I think that’s Earth, Wind and Fire! Right there, under the song. In the background… Oh My God! That’s the Carpenters, Rainy Days and Mondays, really?? Then, “I’m getting married in the morning”? Show tunes and rap? Not a marriage I expected.…
One song in particular he sets up, explicitly, and informs me we will discuss it after I hear the whole song. “Just listen to this, all of it first, and then tell me what you think.” The song that he plays would have been perfect for the sound track of a sequel to MissRepresented….. Mr. Fied? …..The Mr. Ree of Male/Female Relations? The song is by Lupe Fiasco, titled Bitch Bad. It plays out the how girls identify with being called a “bitch”, how boys and girls are raised to view women or become women and how these two constructs don’t always meet up. It describes music and lyrics and the power of their messages and how distorted and disturbing they can be, and simultaneously how benign and meaningless they can be received. Anyway it was magical. The song and the way it was shared with me.
I can remember singing or at least turning up the radio in the car with my own mother and getting lectured and reamed for enjoying three particular songs in my own youth. Let’s spend the night together, now I need you more than ever, and You can’t always get what you want, but if you try real hard you get what you need … I was all of 12 or 13, I wasn’t thinking these songs were leading me to temptation, thrill seeking, promiscuous behavior. I certainly wasn’t thinking that love the one you’re with meant it was OK to have casual sex with anyone near by. Love had nothing to do with sex in my mind at 12, 13,14, or even 15. But that was long ago when the sun always shined brightly. Getting what you want versus getting what you need probably meant wanting a Ring Ding Jr. but getting a sandwich, maybe wanting Levis, but getting Wranglers or gasp…Rustlers. My mother might have feared that I was freely singing about the joys to come and it was her job to stop these joys from happening to early. The other lyrics that offended her; the Mama Pajama rolled out of bed, and ran to the po-lice station…goodbye-Rosie Queen of Corona…I can’t even imagine the problem here. I certainly wasn’t going to call her Mama-Pajama any time soon. I did end up living in Corona for a brief time after college, was it foreshadowing ? I never have my pajamas on past 6AM, if I wear pajamas, which I seldom do…I don’t know what the Mama saw that was against the law, Rosie got out in time.
It was special having my son share these songs as a means to discuss, understand, and even challenge some of my viewpoints. We have other “discussions” at home. They sound more like this: “GET THIS BLEEPING TRASH OFF RIGHT NOW!!!! HOW WOULD IT FEEL IF I WAS SINGING AND PLAYING LOUD MUSIC ABOUT MEN AND HOW STUPID THEY WERE, OR HOW I WANTED TO HURT THEM?!#*!!! “ Familiar discussions, the kind I remember, growing up, sans the strong language, the sun shining and all that jazz. Numerous songs of late discuss ‘ho’s and the beating of women as if some women deserve this, ya know if they are not pure of heart or pure of hymen. In the car it is safe for us to discuss things deeply and calmly. He wants to know and feels safe enough to ask. “Ok, you don’t like when someone sings ‘ho, if they said promiscuous women, would that be ok?” he implores. I answer, “OK, here we go…what do we call men that are what…promiscuous? Oh we don’t, we call them gods and “players” we think they are lucky or heroes. We imagine they are awesome. But women….they are sluts and whores and it’s ok to disrespect them and beat them.”
I go on, like the night, the drive. I must. There’s really no stopping me now. By now we are up and around the back roads of the lower region of North Country. Speculator, Weverton, Riparius….miles and miles of blackness and winding roads and nothingness, but us, family, bound by blood and experience, struggle and happiness, tradition and at times haphazard single-parenting. Love, unconditional and layered in hope and expectation supports us.
I continue…. “Listen, I know there are slutty girls and women, promiscuous, skanky. I’m not thinkin’ all women are wonderful beings, not by a long shot. I just don’t think its OK that men don’t have the same standards. Some of it he hears and agrees with. Most of it he understands and can see the disparity, and some he views as semantics. Best of all, he questions and is empowered to come to his own conclusions.
We stop, finally finding a restaurant, unexpectedly late and still serving dinner. I order a local IPA and he begins sharing his recently learned knowledge of chemistry and beer brewing from a course he recently attended. We laugh and talk and I hand him the keys and allow him to drive. On the Northway, winding and curving and fast, passing trucks and cars and time. He is a man now. Ready. Prepared to know there are expectations for him to treat women, men, equally, respectfully. He has learned that he is expected to come to his own conclusions through thoughtful, and careful consideration, questioning the collective beliefs that may oppress and harm. He believes me to be strong and at times unyielding, but he also knows otherwise. He knows where these strong opinions have grown from, the cause and the cost. He also knows I am all about woman-like and emotionally charged and neurotic as he is driving like a NASCAR rookie on the Northway and I am holding on for dear life driving “shotty” for the LAST time! I am woman hear me roar, squeal, and shriek! Where did I leave my Lilith Fair soundtrack? No worries, Jesus took the wheel and Helen Reddy soothed my nerves. And he smiled knowingly and stood a little taller after he parked safely and helped me unpack the car. A good man, he.