Everyone knows that as a parent you will eventually have to tackle difficult topics with your kids. You assume that as they grow you will have to teach them about smoking, drugs, sex, and other big issues. What no one tells you is that there are no rules as to when these topics come up. No one told me that I would be driving home from a Toastmasters meeting on a Tuesday night with my four and six year olds in the backseat giving the longest, most important table topic of my life.
It all started on our way out of the meeting. Someone had given a speech or a table topic about the dangers of smoking or something. I don’t even recall the specifics anymore. My son began before we even got in the car. I should have known I was in for it. The conversation went something like this:
“Mom, smoking is bad for you, right?”
“Yes it is.”
“But, people in our family smoke.”
“Yes they do.”
“Why? Don’t they know it’s bad for you?”
“Yes. I’m sure they do.”
“Then why do they do it?”
“Because cigarettes are addictive.”
He got in the car and was quiet for a moment. Then it began again.
I sighed as I eased out of the parking space. I didn’t really want to get into it while driving, because- you should know- I’m a bad driver as it is. I don’t really need distractions. But, you never know how many opportunities you will have to discuss these things with your kids while they are actually listening. At the moment, the kids were strapped into the backseat, a captive audience, so I chose my words carefully, trying to be simple, but effective.
“Addictive is when you have something and you just want more of it, like when you eat chocolate and it’s so good that you just want more of it.”
“Why are cigarettes addictive?”
“Because they have a drug called nicotine in them.”
That satisfied him for a moment, as the sun began to set, the situation worsened. It started to rain and my ever-inquisitive boy continued.
“Drugs are bad for you too, right?”
“Then why do people do drugs?”
I sighed again as I turned the wipers on.
“Well, because drugs can make you feel good at first and people don’t know how bad they really are. By the time they realize it, it’s too late to stop.”
“Whitney Houston did drugs and she died.”
Then my daughter got in on it.
“I miss Whitney Houston.”
“It is sad, isn’t it?” (She’s four! Does she even know a Whitney Houston song?)
“Why did Whitney Houston die?” she wanted to know.
The windows were starting to steam up, probably from all of our hot air. I turned on the defogger.
“Ah… they say she took too many prescription drugs, so you see, even drugs from your doctor can be dangerous if you’re not careful about following directions.” I was feeling pretty good about working that in. But it wasn’t over.
We were traveling down Riverside Drive, a dark and windy road when my daughter hit me with another curve ball. Whitney died. She missed Whitney. So naturally, another death occurred to her, and she cried, “I miss Jesus!”
“Yeah,” her brother said. “Jesus died.” (Thank you vacation bible schoo!)
“Why did Jesus die?” she asked. (I take it back… thanks for nothing VBS!)
I turned up the wipers and tried to focus. Everything seemed to be happening so fast. Rain, headlights, questions. “Well, it is said that Jesus died to save us from our sins.”
“He sacrificed himself for us, right mom?”
“Yes.” (My wise little boy!)
“You would sacrifice yourself for us, right mom?” (Holy cow! Where did that come from?)
“Yes, honey, of course I would.” (Dear, God, would this drive never end?)
It was pouring by that time and I hit a puddle. They were relentless. We hydroplaned. As I struggled to keep control, my daughter said, “What about dad? Would he sacrifice himself for us?”
I couldn’t take anymore. “You’ll have to ask your father!” I shouted.
Two minutes later, we pulled on to our street. The kids clamored out of the car and ran into the house as I lay back exhausted in the driver’s seat. And you know, they didn’t ask their father! Part of me wondered why I had been blessed with the tough questions and not him. But I’m thankful that they felt they could ask, and happy that we could be so open with each other. I’m also thankful that I’m a Toastmaster, so that I wasn’t completely panic stricken and was able to formulate somewhat coherent answers. I’m actually hopeful that we will have more of these types of conversations, even if they are at night, in the dark, in the car, in the middle of a monsoon! Oh, who am I kidding? Next time they’re riding home with dad!