published Sunday, September 23rd, 2012

Mary Fortune: Car obsessed son speaks a different language

Mary Fortune

My 12-year-old son is big enough to ride shotgun in my CR-V these days, which I rather enjoy. It's fun to have Jack up front with me, to have the chance to chat with him without craning my neck or peering into the rearview mirror like a chauffeur.

Granted, I've deprived his 7-year-old brother of his back seatmate, but that's all right. It just means Ben has another reason to yell. Ben's good at yelling. It's one of his superpowers.

We were all driving into town last week in a downpour when Jack glanced briefly up from the game he was playing and said evenly, "That was an Audi R8 Spyder we just passed."

The blue-eyed air horn in the back seat wasn't so sure. "Really? Really? Really?"

"Yeah, definitely," Jack said. "I saw it."

Look, I'll just admit right now that I don't know what they're talking about. The next 10 minutes involved a high-volume, back-and-forth discussion of whatever kind of car that is, its relative merits, its top speed and the ways it is better than, or not as good as, a litany of other cars.

Sometimes, as I drift in and out of consciousness during these relentlessly boyful exchanges, I daydream about what it would be like to have a daughter. Would we be talking about her friends and her plans for the day and what she's reading and what is happening in her life?

No, probably not. Probably she'd be telling me my outfit is dorky, and I need a haircut because none of the other moms have that much hair, and why do I have to look so messy all the time? Gah, MOM.

So, my enchanting sons. Yes. Jack's favorite car in the world is the Dodge Challenger. I only recently learned to distinguish the Dodge Charger (four doors, lame) from the Challenger (two doors, awesome). Jack wrote an actual poem last week about the Challenger, rhyming traction with action, among other impressive literary devices. In this poem, he waxed rhapsodic about the car's hemi, which is apparently a very cool kind of engine.

"What does hemi mean?" I asked him.

"It means hemispherical combustion chamber," he explained patiently. Then he told me why that's a very good thing, but I'm not sure I got it, so I will not attempt to explain it here.

On the desktop of my iMac at home is an Excel spreadsheet listing hundreds of cars and their top speeds. Jack has assembled this spreadsheet through painstaking research, and it's one of his favorite questions to ask. He would like, for example, to know whether my 5-year-old CR-V can get up to 140 miles as hour, as the speedometer advertises. Of course I know the answer to that one:

"Not while I'm driving it."

At the end of the day when Jack spotted (allegedly) an Audi R8 Spyder during our morning commute into town, my husband called me to tell me Jack had been right: It was definitely an Audi R8 Spyder.

"It was in the showroom of the Audi dealer. I took them to see it after school."

"Wait. He identified that thing from the front seat of my car. In a driving rain. All the way across the highway. Inside a showroom?"

"Yep."

"Well, that's truly impressive," I conceded. "I wonder why the heck he can't remember to feed the dog."

This is the way it works, I guess, if you're a middle-aged woman raising boys who will be men. They can be sitting right beside you, so close you can touch them, but that doesn't mean you will have any idea what in the world is going on.

Email Mary Fortune at mkfortune@comcast.net.

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