The Playroom: Car Conversations

Author: Maraya Steadman '89, '90MBA

Maraya Steadman

My children and I spend hours each day driving around their over-scheduled lives. I try to use the time in the car productively. They watch educational videos about light sabers, learn about Barbie and work on conflict resolution. I also try to talk to my kids without yelling, making a directed effort to work on the art of conversation.

We practice how to ask someone about their day, show interest in their responses, listen thoughtfully and politely ask questions while respecting other people’s ideas. At the end of a conversation, we practice how to tell someone you enjoyed the conversation by saying, “It was nice talking to you.”

On a recent trip back from hockey practice, my son and I enjoyed this conversation.

“Mom, which would make you sicker: a cake with ten thousand pounds of sugar in it or a booger cake?”
“What’s a booger cake?”
“A cake made out of boogers.”
“The cake with ten thousand pounds of sugar.”
“Really? I thought it would be the booger cake.”
“Where does your brain come up with this stuff?”
“I dunno. I was just thinking about picking my nose.”

My children and I also practice the art of conversation with games such as “good things, bad things.” It’s a game where you go around the car and everyone shares something good that happened that day and something not so good that happened. Even though I know I’m restricting their ability to express themselves about negative experiences, I get tired of hearing about fifth grade boys and erasers, so I only ask about the good things. In the past, the answers have been a perfect score on a spelling test, a presentation gone well, popsicles for someone’s birthday, or a friend’s new dog.

Today I asked my son, “So, tell me something good that happened in school.”

My son answered, “Today at school I was the King of Grossness. This other kid tried to be grosser than me but I was the grossest. I mixed my applesauce and yogurt together, then I spit in it. I took my cheese stick and swirled it all around and then I ate it and I was the grossest one of all my friends and all my friends got down on their knees and said, ‘All hail the King of Grossness.’ Then my friends marched around the room chanting ‘All hail the King of Grossness.’”

Smiling, he leaned back in his seat and sighed, “It was great. It was the greatest day ever.”

Tomorrow, in the interest of conversation, I think I’m going to ask my son, “Which would make you sicker: a cheese stick, yogurt and applesauce all mixed together in someone else’s spit, a cake with ten thousand pounds of sugar or a booger cake?” After showing interest in his response and respecting his ideas, I’ll need to remember to tell my son how much I enjoyed our conversation, and how nice it was to talk to him.

Maraya Steadman, who lives in a Chicago suburb, is a stay-at-home mother of three children. Her website is Email her at