Monday, June 28, 2010

The Road Trip that Was and Wasn't



Photo taken by Hedgehog somewhere in Louisiana


It's nearly a year from the day that my sister and I and then-8-year-old Hedgehog set out on our epic road trip through the Deep South, and I've been reminiscing lately.

The most remarkable thing, in hindsight, is the fact that Hedgehog missed the trip in its entirety. When I say she missed it, I don't mean she wasn't physically there, a fixture in my rearview mirror, stoically passing the thousands of miles strapped to her booster seat. I mean that she wasn't there with us, looking out the window, marveling over the eternities of strange sights: the strangling forests of kudzu, the eerie dusklit swamps and marshes, the signs enticing us toward Stuckeys and boudin, fireworks, peaches, pecans, above-ground cemeteries, the old mansions and slave quarters, alligators, dancehalls, and boiled peanuts.

A committed and compulsive reader, Hedgehog saw the trip as nothing more than an opportunity to read all day every day, across the hours and through the states, all the way across the country, four thousand miles total: a great tipping, sliding pile of books at her side. For her, Mississippi and Alabama will be remembered as a land of dragons and battles, Louisiana and Georgia full of magical swords and brave girl warriors--all punctuated by momentary flights of reality in the form of waffle houses and bright truck stops, necessary leg-stretchings, and portable lunches of tuna salad crackers.

Just once I insisted she catch a glimpse, when we passed through the French Quarter, and she obliged, looking up from her book with glazed eyes. I'm not sure to this day what she actually saw--the ornate little houses and rambling streets, or something else entirely, her mind still in the printed word?

Often as parents we have expectations of just how we want our children to experience some event, outing, or even a sculpture, painting, or story we tell; the truth is that, often, it just won't go as we hope. It can be hard to let go of our expectations, hard not to badger ("put down your book and look at that amazing view!!!"), hard not to pressure, hard not to feel disappointed when things don't go as planned or the enthusiasm just isn't there.

The biggest lesson I've learned as a parent is to try as hard as I can simply to let Hedgehog be. Not to force experiences on her. Not to feel let down when she doesn't react as expected, not to be overly invested in her reactions. That road trip was a real turning point for me in this regard. I very quickly came to a decision to let her read as much as she wanted, and not to insist she look at, or even pretend to care about, the marvels of the road.

I like to think that she will look back with fondness and satisfaction on our odyssey. The voices laughing chatting and arguing from the front seat, the country music on and off as we passed through local bandwidth, all a background murmur. Free from parental vigilance and pressure, in a cozy car full of books she could lose herself in the intensity of her stories. We had our adventures...and I am very certain she had hers.







20 comments:

kylie said...

ah! yes, it's so disappointing when they dont seem to gain from the things we invest in but i believe absolutely that it IS an investment. she might have had a different trip to yours but she will remember it and it will become integrated into her being and make her into a sligghtly different person to what she might otherwise have been.

i remember reading through long car trips, it was great. these days it just makes me motion sick so i am forced to look out the window whether or not i like what i see

willow said...

Ah, you share my philosophy of letting children just be children. I always had plenty of creative elements at their disposal, but I never forced them into anything they weren't naturally drawn to. And sports? They chose just one each year, and only if they were interested. I wanted them to have plenty of time to lie in the grass and look at the sky and just be.

Brian Miller said...

yeah. i think she got what she needed out of it. it is important that we expose them to various experieces to help them determine who they want to be...but letting them be is wise.

i would have had my nose in a book once upon a time...

mapstew said...

They are not us, and yet they are.
And you are right, we have to let them 'be'. :¬)

xxx

savannah said...

i would love to ask her about that trip in 20 years, sugar! i think y'all will be delighted with her memories. xoxoxox

Pearl said...

I think I might have a bit of the Hedgehog in me -- I think I spent most of my childhood deep in a book...

Pearl

Megan said...

Yep. Nobody paid any attention to us, unless there was blood. They fed us, they clothed us, they told us we had to do our homework, and that was it. We didn't get invited to come and hang with the grownups. Because the grownups didn't WANT to hang with us. We were supposed to be disporting ourselves elsewhere while they did their thing!

It's the crazy people that gotta be eight right there with their kids that freak me out.

nick said...

I think you're right, you just have to let children be what they want to be (as long as it's healthy, that is). It's hard to interest them in something they just don't appreciate. When my parents took me to Paris as a teenager, I was fascinated by the Paris Metro and spent most of my time exploring it and ignoring all the well-known tourist attractions (though I do remember going up the Eiffel Tower). But I still came back with fond and vivid memories of Paris.

Alan Burnett said...

In 20 or 30 years time she will probably write a post for her blog remembering the fantastic journey she had and all the places she saw. Sometimes it just takes time.

Pat said...

She must have a strong little tummy. Reading in the car can bring on travel sickness.
It would be interesting to ask her what she remembers of the trip - you may be surprised.

The Unbearable Banishment said...

I told my 8-year old last week that the secret to happiness lies in books. Being a voracious reader when you're young will pay huge dividends later in life. I wish I had started much earlier. I probably wouldn't be sitting in a stupid office every day of my life.

Nana Jo said...

I think you have it just right. When my children were small, I wasn't as wise as you. I tried to insist that they look at and experience the beauty around them. I tried to impose my own sensibilities on theirs. Of course, it didn't work. I was frustrated and so were they. I'm a much wiser Nana.

Baino said...

You will be surprised what she remembers. I took my daughter to Europe and America in 1995 at 12 years of age and it planted the wonderlust. She remembers much of it but certainly got sick of me saying 'how quaint' every time we turned an alpine corner. But she remembers most of it despite knocking over about 4 books.

Leah said...

Kylie: I do agree that all these experiences are integrated somehow, eventually...we're just never sure, as parents, just what they're meaning will be...

willow: that's it, exactly. Provide the stimulus, the crayons, the trips to the museum, access to things...and then let them be. The opposite of a helicopter mom!

Brian: exposure is key...then backing off is the second part. It's hard to do sometimes, though. I always had my nose in a book at that age too! Now you can usually find me knitting...

Stew: that is so true, they are and aren't us. Both must be kept in mind.

savannah: I would too! In fact, I can't wait, and I'm thinking of asking her to write down five things she remembers from the trip. I bet I'll be surprised.

Leah said...

Pearl: ah yes, books were such a part of my childhood too, sometimes I remember plots better than reality!

Megan: my childhood was like that too. It's so sensible really, isn't it? After all, a lot of child development has to happen without interference.

My favorite part of the week is Saturday, when a group of us take our kids out to lunch. The kids are delighted to sit at their own table, and the grownups are delighted to sit at theirs. The conversation is always funny, off-color, and stimulating. And sometimes I'm a little curious about what the kids are discussing--but I won't ask!

nick: great Paris story! In fact this applies to adults too. A. and I had a great time on our last trip to Paris because we avoided all the places people told us we "had to see" and instead wandered around poking into bookstores and eating sorbet.

Alan: You know, she already has a little secret, private blog of her own. Yet she didn't post about her trip--but you're right, these things take time to assimilate.

Pat: I know, I can't believe she can read in the car!! I certainly can't...

UB: yes, I believe it is the secret to happiness, in a funny kind of a way. And the sine qua non...

Baino: good point--and I do think the trip did have that effect. Hedgehog seems very curious now about seeing other parts of America (not to mention abroad).

Nana Jo: It is so hard not to do that. I feel the impulse all the time, and actually it has become a bit of a joke between me and Hedgehog. I try to overcome it, and am sometimes but not always successful.

Snowbrush said...

I've never had children, but if I had, I hope I would feel as you do.

Leah said...

Snowbrush, I try...I really do...it's not always possible, I admit--but it is something to aspire to!

63mago said...

"Often as parents we have expectations of just how we want our children to experience some event, outing, or even a sculpture, painting, or story we tell; the truth is that, often, it just won't go as we hope."

This is all too right. And of course things tent to go their own ways. It may sound a bit trite, but you can not make them look and see "now", but you can teach the art of looking and thus seeing, recognizing: Man sieht nur, was man kennt. One sees only what one knows. (This goes in two directions.) Seeing and recognizing means to put things into relations, and relativity is the basical fundament of any culture ... a web of relations. Oh and of course the book is THE central idea and embodiement of all this - yes, Rebe? You already mentioned it, why not ask her about five things, memories. Ask her again in 19 years, when the journey will have its 20th aniversary.
In 19 years, 2029, hedgehog will be 27, you will be in your fifties? I will be 65.
It does not take too long you know.

Leah said...

mago: I've been thinking about your comment all yesterday and today off and on, and I can't make a reply because you've so perfectly said what I believe.

As for teaching the "art of looking and thus seeing, recognizing," well that is not trite in the least little bit...

xo

muralimanohar said...

When I was 9, and then again when I was 15, we drove from Indiana to California, by the top route, and then Illinois to Arizona, by the lower route. I also had that gigantic pile of books by my side. I distinctly remember lying in the front window (the second trip was in a step van...so we got to lie down in the front ledge against the front window. :p ), reading and reading and reading, periodically glancing up to see the plains, and the landmarks, and all the rest. I did see a lot (on the second, lower trip, I remember seeing a lot...a lot of brown. I am sooo not a desert person. It's beauty is pretty lost on me. :p ) I feel like my kids have missed out, never having had those long road trips growing up. There just isn't very far to go in Hawaii. And in Sydney, I didn't drive, so we were depending on the biggest homebody in the universe to go somewhere. Which meant, we never went anywhere. Argh.