The Night the Boys Came to Dinner

Well, I’m sure I’ve grown all woozy and soft-minded with nostalgia, but I sometimes think I miss driving carpools.  I spent a good 20 years in the driver’s seat, schlepping my own and others’ children to and from school, sporting events, cultural outings, you name it.

Carpool duty wasn’t always fun, but it was invariably interesting.  As a mother of the reasonably intelligent and sneaky variety, I usually kept my mouth shut and eavesdropped shamelessly.  After the kids got to talking, they forgot I was there, which was just fine with me.  That’s the way to learn all kinds of fascinating stuff your kids would never tell you directly.

Driving our son’s middle-school all-boy carpool, I was privy to their talk about romance (very limited), other boys who were bullies and sports.  I’d grown up without a brother and their young-guy talk was fascinating to me.  So this is how men come to be the way they are, I’d tell myself, pretending to look distracted and uninterested.

Oh, but time passes and before you know it, your kids and their friends are turning 16 and you watch them roar off into the distance in a vehicle commandeered by some formerly snotnosed kid you distinctly remember wearing diapers.  This is when you realize you’ve lost control.  On the one hand, you have more time to yourself, and isn’t that swell?  On the other, you’ve lost your gossip pipeline to their kids’ world.

I was thinking about all of this last week, when our son and his two roommates came over for dinner.  They’re all in their early twenties, smart and funny and sociable.

They told us — proudly — how they’re now keeping their apartment much cleaner than before and may not even be in danger of being evicted.  They talked about their ongoing contests as to which one is doing the better cleaning job at the apartment, the lists they kept about the contest, the rulebook they’ve come up with.

All of a sudden, listening to them, I realized where I was: right in the middle of a Nick Hornby novel about young men who haven’t quite grown up.  The guys had never read Nick Hornby, but my husband agreed it was true.  Then, later, he amended it to say he felt like he was in the middle of a beer commercial, which the guys liked even better.

They ate the steak and politely asked for seconds.  They even made token efforts to help us clean up.  Then they thanked us very nicely and left to go home.  It was quiet after they left.  If it takes more steak to lure them back, I thought, we’re going to do it.  I don’t miss driving them, but I’ve missed hearing them talk.

(Copyright 2009 by Ruth Pennebaker)

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