Aug. 1, 2017
Point your kids in the right direction—
when they’re old they won’t be lost. (MSG)
Wow, is it really Aug. 1 already? June and July flew by! Summer is one of my most cherished seasons. Family and friends. Beautiful Michigan summer weather. The beach. The pool. Travel. Rest. All of it! As I write this morning I can hear the sounds of summer. The cicadas are lending their voices, along with a chorus of birds, to the “Summer Song”. The sprinkler rotating in a steady beat.
Sunday night our friends gathered and we shared stories of our summer so far. Travels. Some have packed up the kids and explored other states far from here in motor homes. Some have gone to the very north of Michigan for camping and even house-boating. Others have road tripped to spend time with family who have made their home in another state. However it happens, no matter the journey, if you travel with kids, you know the inevitable question that will escape from one of their mouths… “Are we there yet!?”
While I remember those types of journeys and that inevitable question…my kids are older now; one living and working in another state on the opposite side of the nation, and the other two spending most of the summer trying to earn their funds for college in the Fall. But as August makes its entrance today, it is forcing me to think of the upcoming cross-country journey we will soon make with our 18 year old daughter, to drop her off for her freshmen year at university. There have been many lists written and many preparations for this journey…and many, many trips to Target!
A friend of mine recently dropped her daughter off at her college, and much like I will be in a few short weeks, is now an “empty-nester”. We were floating in the pool one day, reminiscing about the girls and their friendship through the years, and we began asking ourselves questions about preparations for college. Not the checklists that you can find on any Google search of “What to bring to college”. Or the sort that bring up ideas of “How to be successful in college.” We instead found ourselves asking, with some sense of urgency, things like “Did WE do enough to prepare them? Did we impart all the wisdom they need? Did we teach them to be street smart?…I mean…the world is dangerous out there and these are our precious baby girls! Did we….?”
I read an article the other day. The title was something along the lines of “Questions You Should Ask Your Kids Before They Head to College”. I was intrigued. I thought, yes! This is going to be helpful. The sort of thing I was looking for that could answer those questions from the other day with my friend. A list. I like lists. A lot. And after reading it? I was so disappointed. Incredulous. Disillusioned. I believe the author had good intentions to be helpful, and maybe for some readers, it actually was helpful. For me though, the questions fell short. They ranged from things like “ What will your class load be? What is your budget for school expenses? For personal expenses?” to things like “What will you do when someone invites you to a party? What kinds of qualities will you look for in your new friends? Will you go to church?”.
Maybe it wasn’t the questions in particular that fell short. I think what I was left with after reading it, was the keen awareness of the timing of it all. The suggestion that if I used these questions to open up a conversation with her now, that it would help her make good decisions in the first critical weeks of her college life. Really? NOW I should ask her those things? NOW I should open up the conversations about friends and what to do if someone asks you to a party? What about the last 18 years? I thought…what do you think I’ve been doing for the last 18 years??? (Again, I understand that not everyone has an entirely open relationship with their kids. That perhaps those questions, despite my opinion on the rather late (too-late?) timing of those questions/conversations, will help another parent and child open up some much needed discussion. I would say it is NEVER too late to try to connect on at least some level with your kids.) So back to those questions my friend and I were asking of ourselves. Did we prepare them enough? Did we do a good job of raising them? Will they be ok? The sense of urgency we felt about the last days with them under our roof? After reading this “wisdom” from some “expert” about what to ask my kid before she leaves for college and the conversation that day in the pool…I thought of my friend, sometimes enemy, Siri. Yep. Siri. And I thought of good old-fashioned road maps too. The paper ones. The impossible-to-fold-back-up ones.
“Siri, give me directions to …” She gives me all sorts of wonderful information for my journey. She gives me options “avoids tolls” or “fastest route”. She tells me that my journey will take 1 day 4 hours. She tells me the miles I will journey. She even goes so far as to tell me that a “faster route is available to avoid road construction”. OH YES PLEASE! Anyone from Michigan knows that we joke about the fact that we have two seasons…winter and road construction! (If you’re not from a freezing cold snowy climate in the winter, just understand that our roads get destroyed on a regular basis from the freezing, thawing and snow-plowing, so come spring our cars are often known to disappear into the pot holes left behind, and our summer is “road construction” season. We can’t go anywhere without traffic delays and backups for miles upon miles). I can even get walking directions from Siri, though she tells me for this journey that they are not available! I seem to always choose the “fastest route” option, but no matter the route, when I finally click on “go”, the overview map disappears replaced by a very small area of where I currently am and her annoying voice tells me how to get out of my driveway and shows me the blinking blue dot that I now am on the route.
Siri has been helpful to me many times. And at other times she has led me astray. One time in Atlanta she was supposed to guide us to the aquarium and we ended up in the parking lot of AT&T, a good hour from the aquarium. Apparently they are sponsors or something of the aquarium and well…Siri led us on a tour of the parking lot. “You’ve arrived at your destination.” Sure, maybe some user-error was involved, but still! I trusted her! Another time we were heading the complete opposite direction of where we needed to go, though I am SURE that user-error was not involved this time! Luckily, my husband has an incredible sense of direction and turned us around quickly as it just “felt wrong”. ?? I can’t identify. I have no sense of direction at all. I depend on her, no matter how annoying, no matter that she has let me down in the past. It’s strange, but even when I’ve journeyed somewhere several times in my life…like to Chicago…I still depend on her to tell me the way.
My kids have grown up in the technology era. They’ve never had to deal with reading a map! Spreading the map out on the table, highlighting the best route before starting out on a journey. Folding the map in such a way that you can navigate while you drive without crashing! (and how come there were never any PSAs on “don’t map and drive…stay alive!”?? Those were dangerous times!) My kids rely on Siri more than I do. Yet, there have been several times, one just recently, that Siri didn’t know best. Our oldest was home for a wedding and needed to get to the reception. He asked Siri, she showed him the way, but before he left he was talking to his dad about the route. His dad remarked “That’s a crazy way to go! Just do this…” Oh, but Siri doesn’t even SHOW that as a possible way! Trust me. It’s super easy and just as fast. I think he even got out a MAP to show him…or at least looked at one online! Sure enough…he took that way, ignoring Siri and all her advice and told his dad “You were right!” upon his return.
So should I just go back to the paper map system? Forgo Siri and her ways? There ARE benefits in my opinion. For one, we see the entire journey. We gain at least some sense of the way we should be going, even those of us that are directionally challenged benefit from seeing the “big picture”. WE have to do some thinking and evaluating about which would be the best route. We might even consult another actual human who has journeyed this way before us. Maybe they know some tricks. Know best which roads are jammed with traffic on a regular basis, or a better way that Siri doesn’t even suggest! And biggest benefit of all…I wouldn’t have to hear that annoying voice! (Yes, I know I can change Siri to a male from Australia…I suppose I could even mute her…but I think I’d panic not hearing her tell me which way to go sometimes, I’d doubt myself and the road ahead as I watched that blue blinking dot in silence.)
Now WHY, after reading that article and talking with my friend was I thinking of Siri and roadmaps? Because I was thinking of the journey that is parenting. I was thinking of Proverbs 22:6. Have we pointed them in the right direction so they won’t be (so?) lost? I was thinking of which manner is best to find that direction? The Siri way with all its benefits and ease? Yet…there are challenges there too. So is a map better? Benefits and downfalls to both. So the answer for me to “Siri or a map?” is YES. Both. In parenting we need that larger view… a roadmap of sorts which requires a great deal of intentionality…planning, thinking, evaluating and often the sage advice of those that have journeyed before us. We must know where this journey is heading, have an overview of the plan of how to get there, and not just blindly follow where someone else tells us to go! Yet, sometimes even with that larger map, there are times that we just need to take one small step forward at a time because seeing the whole journey constantly before us is too much. Sometimes having someone else’s voice to guide us for a portion of the way is ok because we get weary and tired, or maybe we just want to know how to get to the nearest gas station so we can get out and stretch our legs, refuel. And even then, using both systems to navigate the journey ahead, there are times when despite all of this, our kids do depart from the road…they take another route…one they think is better, faster, less traffic…and like siri we are screaming in our heads “proceed to the route!!! Make a U-turn!!!” Parenting doesn’t come with a road map or a Siri…but if we are intentional about raising them…talking with them often and through ALL their lives (not just trying to cram some questions in at the “end” before they leave our nest)…perhaps those departures can just be short detours and they will return to the best route soon…