What I am about to tell you may surprise you.
It is not something I like to advertise about myself. In fact, very few people know this about me.
I have a problem, but I have managed to hide it well.
Yet, in order to share this story, I must divulge this little known personal fact and allow you to “Take a Look In My Closet.”
And once you hear this, you may never want to ride in the car with me.
You will never want to follow me to a destination.
You will never again ask me for directions.
You see, my sense of direction is terrible. Actually, it is worse than terrible. My sense of direction is non-existent. I may be the only person in the world who can get lost despite having a navigation system, a map, and written directions.
It’s that bad.
And you want to know the really sad part? I have spent my whole life watching my sister navigate with ease.
At age five, she looked at a map for 30 seconds and began directing the entire family around Disney World, including the eleven foreign countries of Epcot. Twenty-five years later we return to the Magic Kingdom with my children and my sister calls out to her nieces, “Don’t bother with a map! Aunt Rebecca remembers where everything is located!”
My sister got the Supersize Sense of Direction Gene. And what little tiny shred of directional sense I started with has been slowly drained away each time I got lost.
The last little bit of directional sense I owned was completely sucked away three weeks ago when my four-year-old had to remind me that I parked on the other side of the outlet mall when I clutched her hand tightly and screamed, “I think our car has been stolen!” (It’s true. I can’t make this stuff up.)
But it wasn’t until recently that I made the worst navigational flub in even my own long history of embarrassing wrong turns and directional mishaps.
And sadly, I took three little innocent victims with me in the process.
Although this story does not illustrate one of my shining moments, the lesson I received in the process surpasses my need for self-preservation.
For it is in the moments that I want to scream, “This is not what I had planned!” that my greatest Hands Free revelations come to light.
For it is in the moments that I become lost, something far greater has a chance to be found.
This is my story…
I recently got to be a chaperone on my daughter’s preschool field trip to a precious farm that was about 45 minutes north of our city.
Several mothers and fathers drove students to the farm in their personal vehicles.
As I mentioned earlier, I hide my “problem” well by learning to compensate. Not only do I have a navigation system, but I always MapQuest my destination before I go. Plus, the preschool staff kindly handed out written directions. I refer to that trio of navigation as “The Triple Threat” and never drive to an unknown location without them.
I had the pleasure of transporting my four-year-old daughter and two precious little boys. One of them was way smarter than most four-year-olds I have ever encountered. He had many opinions, which he impressively backed up with riveting facts. He was there to teach and inform, whether we liked it or not. He reminded me of my college history professor that had a similar cowlick. From here on out, I will refer to this boy as “Little Professor.”
Then there was this teeny tiny little soft spoken boy. He was agreeable to anything and everything. He nodded “yes” and “no” and always remembered “please” and “thank you.” I will refer to him as “Bambi” in my story because he truly was that sweet.
Then there was my laid back daughter who is the best car rider in the whole world. As soon as the car begins to move her thumb goes right into her mouth. I will call her “Easy Rider.”
The field trip had concluded. It had been a great day. The weather was perfect; the owners of the farm were warm and inviting. The animals fully cooperated with the small people who offered feed from their sweaty little hands. No one got stung by a bee or had to go home with wet pants.
Cars began departing the parking lot. My three passengers all wanted to buckle themselves, so I practiced “Waiting Joyfully” as they did so.
Within two short minutes all the other cars were gone. I got a little panicky feeling in my gut.
What if I get lost?
But then I reminded myself I was armed with “The Triple Threat” and confidently told myself I would be fine. I could get us home. No problem.
I hopped on the interstate and began to drive. And drive. And drive.
I thought to myself, we should be getting close to home now.
(Now I am not making excuses here, well, I guess maybe I am, but please keep in mind I did not grow up here. I have lived in this area for three years and have not ventured around the state much at all. However, when I saw a sign for a town that I knew was in the OPPOSITE direction of my home, I knew I had a made a terrible mistake.)
I pulled off. The children, who had been chatting nicely with each other (except for the thumb sucker who was now looking glazed over), suddenly sat up and looked out the window.
“Uh…Miss Rachel…” Little Professor was the first to speak up.
He broke the bad news to me ever so gently, “I think you went the wrong way.”
Then Bambi in a meek and bewildered voice, “Are we lost?”
Then Easy Rider, “Mama, are we almost home? I am tired.”
I knew it would be best to remain calm, so I had to take a few breaths before I responded. I did not want the children to return home with a new list of vocabulary words that would have made Bambi’s grandmother blush profusely.
Unfortunately, profane words are about the only words that come to mind when you realize you just drove the WRONG WAY for 45 minutes!!!!
But I managed to swallow the curse words and exhaled slowly.
I released the death grip on the steering wheel and wiped the sweat from my forehead.
I took my foot off the gas, resisting the urge to drop the pedal to the floor and squeal my tires as I merged into southbound traffic.
“Kids,” I calmly informed them, “Miss Rachel went the wrong way. We are not lost. I know where we are, but it is going to take a little time…I mean…a LONG time…to get home.”
I let them know that I would call their teacher and she would call their parents so they would not worry.
Then I said this to them, or maybe it was more to myself, “Everything will be alright.”
I thought they would fuss. I thought they would whine. I thought they would pout. I was certain one of them would angrily demand to see my driver’s license.
But they didn’t. Not a peep. They sat there like perfect little angels.
The only one whining, fussing, and pouting was the Big Baby behind the steering wheel.
In my mind, a huge melt down was taking place…
I thought about that one precious hour I was supposed to have at home that was now gone.
I thought of all the things I had planned to accomplish in that one hour that would now have to wait.
I berated my navigation system and considered throwing it out the window.
I said some not so nice things to my brain, which I felt had so badly failed me.
I complained about being tired and cursed my lack of insight to put some Diet Coke in the car in case of dire emergencies such as this one!
I whined about having to drive for another 90 minutes when all I wanted was to be home.
And then suddenly, I looked in my rear view mirror. And what was staring back at me snapped me back into reality; it was the Hands Free Slap In The Face that I desperately needed at that moment.
There sat three beautiful, healthy, completely original, adorable and positively brilliant children who continued to chat and look out the window as if they were happily riding the train to visit Santa at the North Pole.
You would have never guessed they had just been subjected to a 45 minute ride to Nowhere, only to be informed that we would not be getting out, simply turning around to travel back home from Nowhere for 90 minutes!!!
Finally Control-Freak-Plan-Everything-to-the-Last-Minute-Obsessive-Compulsive-Fly Off-The-Handle-When-Something-Goes-Amiss Drill Sergeant Rachel shut up just long enough to hear her calm and logical Hands Free inner voice pipe up with a few questions:
When do you have 90 minutes of exclusive, non-distracted time to talk with your child and her dear little friends? When do you have 90 minutes to know the inner workings of their creative little brains? When do you have 90 minutes to not be anywhere but where you currently are, enjoying THIS moment that has been gifted to you?
Now. You have it now. And you may never have it again.
So stop wasting this PRECIOUS time complaining about what could have been. And start enjoying what IS.
Perhaps this could be the best mistake of your life, Rachel.
And then in my cheerful teacher voice I announced we would be playing a game to pass the time.
Really? We will? Could that really be me? (Drill Sergeant Rachel often doesn’t know when to quit.)
I gave them a letter of the alphabet and they had to think of a food that began with that letter. They thought of all kinds of interesting and delicious foods.
With food words like pepperoni, pretzels, and popsicles the mile markers came quickly.
Then we moved on to animals. They named animals they had seen that day on the farm. They thought of animals they have longed to see in real life. They named animals that were just funny words to say.
With animal words like monkey, mongoose, and muskrat the laughter came easily.
And after that we moved on to movie characters, which was Easy Rider’s forte. She even forgot about how much she loved her thumb to participate in this discussion.
With names like Captain Underpants, Cat Woman, and Care Bears, time and place completely disappeared, only the here and now remained.
In fact, I forgot my own agenda; I was absorbed into the moment, the sacred moment that I held in my hand and had almost tossed away in frustration and anger.
I decided this experience might be one of my best Hands Free lessons thus far. And my “teachers” were all under the age of five, less than four feet tall, and often chew with their mouths open. But they knew things that I didn’t about surviving…no, make that thriving, in times of frustration and hostility.
The Lessons of the Little People:
*Always look at the bright side. Or as Bambi put it, “At least we didn’t drive all the way to California.”
*Games make you forget that you are in a car. Or as Easy Rider put it, “Oh no! We are home already. Can we keep driving so we can keep playing?”
*You don’t need technology to occupy yourself. Or as Little Professor put it, “This is TV Free Week; we cannot watch a movie or we will all kill our brain cells.”
*If you find that you are lost, might as well make the most of it. Or as Bambi said, “This was fun being lost with you, Miss Rachel. Can I ride in your car again?”
Just look what I found when I ended up in a place I thought I didn’t want to be.
I am so glad I didn’t miss this trip…the priceless trip to Nowhere.
In fact, I think I will make a point to return to that wondrous place again soon.
Next time you find yourself in a place you really didn’t want to be or didn't plan to be…open your eyes, open your heart, and open your mind. Maybe this is exactly where you are supposed to be.