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Jesus is a Slow Driver

OR: “What I discovered about teaching, I discovered raising my son”

Alex proclaimed it— ceremonially. He was four at most and we were snuggling after his bath, the fragrance of Baby Shampoo lingering in his hair. He wore those flannel pyjamas I love so much, with the feet and the trap door at the back.

It was the usual bedtime routine, me lying beside him while he rehashed his day: the highlight, the cool stuff he had learned. The sad and happy things, who were the playgroup friends, who didn’t he like anymore. Beats me why I broached the subject of God and the Big Questions that night. I'm not a card-carrying church goer.

“What do you know about Jesus?” I asked, trying to stump him. Not expecting him to weigh-in full speed ahead the way a yattering jackhammer hacks at the sidewalk. With his usual conviction, eyes opened wide.

“Jesus is a slow driver,” he said, without missing a beat.

Duh. Obviously, Mom.

I remember a book in our family library, circa 1940-something, my mother’s textbook for Intro Psych, the course she had failed in her first year of university. The jacket, an unfortunate hue, was nipped at the corners and brushed with dust. I first reached for the mysterious tome one early morning between the Emergency Broadcast Test and Saturday cartoons. It piqued my interest in psychology and the brain. Randomly, I opened it and landed on a photograph of identical twins. The twins, it said, separated at birth, had been raised apart and despite those years living different lives, it turned out they shared similar idiosyncrasies, interests, habits, even intelligence.

At 11, I found it weird that a mother would agree to separate her children for a science experiment, but it didn’t trouble me more than that. I imagined their family reunion years later, their visible surprise at being mirror images of each other. I pictured the intense emotion, the release as they embraced for the first time after all that time apart, the palpable resemblance beyond appearance— a testament to the power of nature over nurture. Nature, it seemed, had killer teeth.

A mother myself and teacher by trade, I would argue today that nurture can be equally potent. Alex, now 28, lives happily with his girlfriend in a nice apartment two blocks away from me. I cannot take credit for his good looks or his intellectual aptitude. I didn’t give birth to him.

What I can take credit for are the life lessons I imparted about picking up after yourself and leaving the world a better place than when you found it. About empathy and sharing the wealth. Flushing the toilet. Finishing what you started.

I also take credit for the fuckups, big ones included. Like the time I was so exasperated with him, I picked up his favourite thing, a robin’s nest, and chucked it down the stairs. My rage was one with the fragile nest as it hit the bannister and smashed into smithereens. The takeaway? Be rash. Impulsive. Let your emotions run unchecked.

The Jesus thing was another of my fuckups.

We drove around town a lot when he was a baby. Alex was an insomniac. The mice in his brain worked overtime. The crib, understand, was not an option. Nor was perching him on a dryer tumbling with laundry, the hapless advice of a well-meaning friend. The drive induced a state of relaxation. It lulled him to sleep. Especially with the warm sun streaming in.

I drove in circles around town while he stared out the window, eyelids growing heavy. Then a bug would splat across the windshield or the long dinosaur neck of a backhoe would rise from a construction site with concrete in its teeth, something would flicker on my son’s retina and snap him back to the land of the living. It usually took three or four tries to get him down, my patience wearing thin.

Let me be clear: “Jesus Christ” is the perfect retort when the driver up ahead slows to a crawl. It’s certainly my default. “Jesus Christ, buddy, can you speed it up a little? What kind of shit-box are you driving, anyway?” The whole time I’m brake-tapping, avoiding a collision. It spews from my lips.

“Jesus!” “Jee-zus!” “Jesus H. Christ” and every other salty variation.

I can’t say with scientific precision how much he saw from his car seat, what exactly his brain processed on our meandering drives through the neighbourhood. What neurons shot through what pathways and registered their impressions. What I can share is what my unintentional experiment revealed to me without recourse to Harvard studies or peer-reviewed journals. Children are sponges. They will soak up everything in the right setting and I’m not talking about a four-wall classroom.

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