The Old “Mom Trick”

There’s an old “mom trick” that mothers have employed since the dawn of transportation. If you want to know what your kid is thinking or doing, drive them somewhere with their friends, keep your mouth shut, and listen to every word of youthful banter in the back seat. As long as you don’t gasp, react with horror, throw a tizzy, or faint at the wheel, you can learn a lot about your child from eavesdropping on their casual conversations.

Moms, we’ve always had a good thing going and I don’t want to spoil it, but it’s wise to be aware that your kids can learn a lot about what you think by listening to the casual conversations you have with your friends.

I was waiting to get my hair cut the other day and listened to my delightful hairdresser talk to another mother, whose son was sitting in the chair getting his hair cut. These two moms were talking about girls. To be specific, they were talking about how crazy, emotional, immature and unreasonable teenage girls could be.

All the while, I carefully watched this 12-year old boy, who sat perfectly still, staring straight ahead with an impassive expression on his face. He appeared to be bored and indifferent to the conversation, like he could break into a big yawn any minute.

I didn’t fall for it. He was doing the “mom trick.” He didn’t interject, freak out, or faint in the chair, but he also didn’t miss a single word that these two mothers had to say about girls, which, I suppose, could be a topic of supreme interest to a 12-year old boy.

He knew how to play the “mom trick” really well, and I got a kick out of watching him.

Eventually, I’m the one who cracked by laughing out loud and saying something to his mother, like “Your son is certainly getting an earful about girls!”

My gleeful provocation may have reminded the two moms that this boy was hearing everything they were saying, and it also may have prompted him to speak up.

“I already know about girls,” he said coolly. “I’ve had three girlfriends.”

“Really?” my hairdresser replied, smiling.

“Yeah, my first girlfriend was in first grade,” he said, sounding very worldly.

I silently saluted this savvy, poker-faced kid, who readily admitted that he had not been tuning out the drone of maternal chatter.

This fun banter reminded me of all the times I played the front seat “mom trick,” desperately trying to glean info from one of my son’s back seat conversations. In hindsight, I suspect that my son and his friends were always aware of my front seat presence and were far more guarded than these two moms, who probably simply appreciated a few minutes of happy, gabby, girl-talk.

This experience also reminded me that, like most games we parents play, as soon as our kids figure it out, they can usually outplay us.

Ann K. Howley is the author of the award-winning memoir,  "Confessions of a Do-Gooder Gone Bad". She is a regular contributor to Pittsburgh Parent Magazine and won the First Place Prize for Nonfiction in the 2015 Pennwriters Writing Contest.