Tony Woodlief | Author

Why I never stop to ask for directions

Caleb has reached that stage where he thinks everything he has to say is fascinating. It’s a stage, unfortunately, that most people never escape, as evidenced by the ubiquity of cell phones and, well, blogs. No, most people never escape that stage, nor, for that matter, do those of us around them.

It’s just part of the terrain that every parent understands, and so we endure the fact that our children are going to relay to us, in exquisite detail, exactly what happened in every frame of the latest Pixar film they’ve consumed, or all the intricacies in the evolving virtual rule book that governs how they play punch buggy. Caleb is an erudite lad, and so he likes to tell us about what he’s reading. We are on a long road trip, and he is reading about animal traps.

(I pray to God he doesn’t actually get around to building one, because the last thing we need around this house are more animals, be they of the two, four, or no-legged variety.)

He’s reading about animal traps, and he is so taken with one particular version that he starts describing how it works to me. There is rope, and bars, and some kind of complicated knot, I think. The thing is, I have no spatial reasoning skills whatsoever. I have to see a map from several angles and cogitate on it and sacrifice a chicken over it in order to find my way. I have to think about which way to turn a screw. And the directions you get with those “some assembly required” toys? The ones typed out by South Koreans whose English is so bad they can’t even get call center jobs? Why do you think our kids have so many books?

My plight is especially comical because I am married to a woman who believes there is a place for everything, usually a highly specific place tucked in among other things. I’m more a pile it up and search when you think you need it kind of guy. She’s a label and arrange kind of gal. This makes for good times on the Woodlief homestead.

“Honey? Where’s the thingamajig?”

“Second shelf of the white cabinet, third bin from the back, fourth compartment on the right.”

Yes, she usually answers that fast. She really does know where everything is, just so long as I haven’t put it on the adventure land that is my desk. But you see, to someone with no spatial reasoning, she might as well tell me to swim to China for the thingamajig. To her, the directions she provides are plain as day. To me she’s talking like the teacher in Charlie Brown. We’ve got a five-year running argument about whether she accurately described which pocket of her luggage contained something I was looking for when we were on a trip together. In her world, there is left, right, center, top, bottom, front, back. In mine there is big pocket, little pocket, and to hell with it, let’s just buy another thingamajig at Wal-Mart.

Good times, my friends. Good times.

This is on my mind as I kindly interrupt the boy to explain that his description might as well fall on deaf ears. “Caleb,” I say,”I can’t see things in my head like that. I’ll have to look at it when I’m not driving.”

He persists with his description. His mother intervenes. She knows what she’s talking about. She is married to one of the few men on the planet who, if placed inside a square, would have a hard time finding a corner.

The boy perseveres with his description. I tell him again that I just can’t see what he’s saying. That it’s no good trying to describe this contraption to me, because I can’t get a picture of it in my head.

He sighs. “I know, Dad, but can I just describe it to you anyway?”

You see, I was thinking the goal was for him to convey information to me. But that’s not it at all. The goal is for him to say what he has to say, apparently for the simple pleasure of saying it.

“Sure,” I reply. “Tell me all about it.”

And so he does. Every corner, nook, and cranny on that device that remains a mystery to me. I love this boy, but I’m hoping he’ll become more circumspect with his words over time. If not, maybe I’ll just hand over this blog when I finally run out of things to yap about myself. Heck, I guess that’s why half the time I’m writing about what my children say. The ruminations of my children carry far more import for me than the pronouncements of most adults, myself included. Not that I think children are somehow wiser or holier than most adults. But they certainly are more interesting.

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