For a glimpse into the teenage mind, drive and listen

One of the best parts of my week is driving my oldest son and his best friend to their karate practice. The route is a windy one up, over and along Highway 13 in Oakland, and even though I’ve been driving it twice a week for at least eight years, we hardly ever leave on time.

I know the boys hate to be late. Twenty pushups is the penalty for tardiness, even if it’s not their fault. The discipline of martial arts.

There is surprisingly little traffic at 5:45 p.m., but that’s not what is great about this drive. The part I love is being in a small space with two 15-year-old boys, no eye contact possible, and hearing what (if anything) they have to say.

Sometimes it’s a random comment about school or the terrible driver in front of us. Sometimes there’s real news to share, like his friend’s sister was accepted into the college of her choice.

How does he feel about her being gone next year? He’ll be the oldest in the house.

Lately the two of them have been strategizing about next year and which incoming freshmen they can recruit for the football team. This seems to be an important topic. Sometimes there’s nothing to say at all, and I turn up the radio a little louder.

I wonder if they appreciate the ’80s channel on satellite radio as much as I do, and then I notice them both staring out the window, each lost in thoughts of the day that was, and the one still to come.

This week we briefly discuss the benefit of their semester-long research project for English class, the time they went on the fourth-grade Gold Rush weekend and a boy in their class fell out of a tree, and the proudest moment in each of their lives to date, their bar mitzvah.

These two boys have been friends since the first day of preschool. At 2 years old they found each other and connected over Legos, which instantly bonded two very different characters.

Where one is adventurous and loves the outdoors, the other is happy at home with a book. One plays rugby, the other the guitar. Defense vs. attack on the soccer field. One likes to row, the other skis black diamond.

They don’t hang in the same crowd at school, and as they get older and the differences in their interests are more defined with each passing year, it would seem that they’d naturally drift away from each other. They don’t even attend the same summer camp.

And they are closer than ever.

I listen to the way they interact on the way to karate every Tuesday and Thursday, and I marvel at their easy friendship. They agree and disagree, call each other out and laugh at the same jokes. There is a comfort, security and closeness between these two that transcends their daily lives of different social circles and activities.

“Both of your proudest moments are your bar mitzvahs?” I ask, with a smile. I don’t know why I’m surprised to hear this, but it makes me happy. Teenage boys are so mysterious. “Well, yeah,” they reply, almost in unison. “We haven’t had such long lives yet,” one of them adds.

It’s true. Their lives are young.

“Thanks for the ride,” they both mumble as they grab their green belts and slam the car doors. We actually made it with a few minutes to spare. I wish they would be a little gentler on the doors. Neither of them is wearing any shoes and they pick their way carefully along the tarred road. They are deep in conversation.

Their lives are young, yes, and full of the promise of more friends and girls and teams and schools. More opportunities to not do things together. But that doesn’t matter at all. They’re both working toward a black belt in karate, and the great thing about Legos is that they’re fun for all ages.

These two are best friends. I have a feeling they always will be.

Nicki Gilbert

Nicki Gilbert is a writer, Alcatraz swimmer and country music lover who lives in Piedmont with her husband, four kids and dachshund puppy. Her blog is