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.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Scarlet's Meme: a Family Effort

Funny, sweet, and acerbic Miss Scarlet has memed me with a ten-question virus that I very much enjoy. There is a little award involved, but I will leave it in her care for now.

It goes like this: she made up ten questions for six people, and I in turn will answer those and ask ten of my own to six people. I decided to share the questions with the whole family:

1. Do you prefer asking questions or answering them?

Me: I like answering questions because I'm a huge egomaniac and I like to talk about myself, and I like asking questions because most people are fascinating if you know the right questions to ask.

Sarge: that depends on the question, doesn't it.

Hedgehog: asking. Cause then you learn stuff.

2. What is your favourite joke? [Or favourite one liner?]

Me: "How many feminists does it take to screw in a lightbulb?" "that's not funny!"
alternately, Dorothy Parker's New Yorker review of "The House at Pooh Corner": "Tonstant Weader Fwowed Up"
also Dorothy, "if all the girls who attended the Yale prom were laid end to end, I wouldn't be a bit surprised."
Boy, she was a nasty, funny piece of work, wasn't she? I'm sure I wouldn't want to have known her personally, but I love and adore her famous quips.

Sarge: That's my joke, by the way, thanks a lot! My favorite one-liner? From Mago in the comments section: "There sticks a mole-foot out of the side of your dog's mouth?"

3. Have you ever fantasized about being on Big Brother [the well known TV show... I'm not alluding to incest]?

Me: Despite my egomania, I'm a very private person, and at the end of the day I like to take refuge in my home, close and lock the door, and not be bothered. Thus, Big Brother is not for me. Also, I worry that I would be quickly known as the house kokhleffl (funny Yiddish word for "pot-stirrer" in the non-literal sense).

Sarge: No.

Hedgehog: What's that?

4. Have you ever wanted to enter a talent show?

Me: Flat out no. My talents lie in very odd areas that wouldn't be usefully displayed on a stage.

Sarge: Actually, yes! Totally.


5. Is Simon Cowell really necessary?

Me: Oddly, I would say yes. I've only seen the show a couple of times, but I love the idea that he doesn't mince words, spare feelings, deliver empty flattery or promises, or hem and haw--all his bald statements support the truth as he sees it, no phoney-baloney. People can learn from him--especially politicians.

Sarge: Nothing on that show is really necessary. Nothing on tv is necessary.

Hedgehog: Well, no because the show itself isn't necessary.

(oh my god, she's her dad's daughter all right, isn't she? She came up with the same answer totally independently)

6. Tea or coffee?

Me: Coffee. Tea usually just makes me shudder, unless brewed properly. Not for me the casually dunked teabag. Iced tea, on the other hand, is delightful.

Sarge: Dr. Pepper

Hedgehog: tea

7. What is your favourite perfume? Or smell?

Me: Anick Goutal's "Mandragore." "Memoirs of a Geisha" by Fresh (sadly discontinued, though I have a few bottles stashed in the fridge). Dog paws. Those little pink sweet and peppery roses that come in the spring. Sarge.

Hedgehog: baking cookies.

Sarge: vanilla

8. What is the quickest route to Wales from where you live?

Me: My daydreams.

Sarge: transatlantic flight to Cardiff? Is there an airport in Cardiff?

9. What does the word 'Wales' conjure to your mind?

Me: The Welsh Separatist Movement.

Hedgehog: The ancient Welsh sea-god Llyr

Sarge: hills

10. Are you dreading dreaming up ten questions to ask six bloggers?


Here are my ten questions:

1. What is your least favorite piece of clothing that you own? (from Hedgehog)

2. Gravity or magnetism? (Sarge)

3. Would you rather fantasize, or act it out in real life?

4. What is a name, other than your own, that you think suits you?

5. Tell us about a nice thing a stranger did for you.

6. What was your favorite childhood toy?

7. Do you hold a grudge, or let things go easily?

8. Favorite children's book?

9. Something you're proud of?

10. Which of the following four artworks do you relate to most, on first glance, and why?





Okay, now I tag the following to answer these ten questions, come up with your own ten, and so on...

feel free not to! Although I would enjoy reading your answers:

1. Mapstew

2. The Unbearable Banishment

3. Hunter (a break from your manuscript?)

Oh crap, that's only three. Oh well, I've petered out. This was much more elaborate then I'd expected, and I'm exhausted. If you've made it this far, you are truly a blog reader to be reckoned with.