Backseat Driver

My husband and I are both Geographers.  By schooling and by hobby.  We both have undergraduate and graduate degrees in Geography.  We like maps, especially old maps, and we have framed maps hanging on many of the walls in our home.  We have more than one globe, and issues of National Geographic abound.  We have road atlases in our car, and folded up maps in the glove compartment.  And the irony of this is that none of those things, of course, ever stop us from getting lost.

And our son seems to be following, to some degree, in our footsteps.  Or in this case, our tire tracks…

You see, I was driving Snags to preschool one recent morning when he pulled one of our many road atlases out from the door compartment in the car where we store them.  From his position in the backseat of the car he asked, “Mom, what does ‘S’ stand for?”  I had to think about this for a moment.  Then I realized that he must be looking at the north arrow in the atlas so I responded, “Um…South.”  To which my backseat driver announced, “Okay.  We’re going to go south out of the garage and down the driveway. Then we are going to turn west up the street.” 

And now you must be wondering, if I just taught him ‘S’ stood for south, where did he learn about west? Well, from Curtis, Kimee, Karla, Shaun, and Jenn on Hi-5, of course!  You don’t think professional geographers like my husband and I would teach this kind stuff to a child do you? Because we didn’t.  We don’t have the time.  North, south, east and west are on a whole other directional plane from “Go UP to your room!” or “Sit DOWN, you know better than to stand on the table!” 

Anyway, think about this… Snags was holding that atlas flat on his lap.  In that position, the north arrow on the page would point straight ahead and north would always be in front of us.  If we back up, go in reverse to get out of the garage and down the driveway, we must be headed south.  Because as he sees it, the north arrow is pointing forward, and south is pointing behind us.

And so naturally, if we turn left off of our street we will be heading west, and conversely, if we turn right, we’ll be headed east.  And mostly this is correct.  But kids don’t understand that you need to take into account your current position when you are reading a map, and THAT makes all the difference.

As I continued driving toward preschool my son announced, roughly every 7 seconds, that we were “…going north… still going north… still going north… still. going. north.  Still going north, mom…” 

I found myself driving a little faster, trying to get to the place where we had to turn.  Because, I figured, at least then he could stop saying “still going north…” 

I mean, I felt like I was stuck in that orange-banana knock knock joke.  You know it right? 

Knock. Knock.
Who’s there? 
Banana who?
Knock. Knock.
Who’s there? 
Banana who?
Knock. Knock.
Who’s there? 
Banana who?

And just when you are about to take out your own eardrums with the stiff end of a banana peel after saying “Banana who?” for the 432nd time, the joke changes and they say “Orange” and you say, “Orange who?” and the joke teller says: “Orange you glad I didn’t say banana?” Yes, I know…  Ha. Ha. Very funny.  Not.

Finally, we had a turn approaching and the voice from the back seat declared “We’re going to turn east.”  I thought then I would just test my theory about my son’s directional competency and so I asked him, “How do you know that?” and he replied, pointing out the window, “Because my school is over there; see EAST!” 

“Okay,” I said.  “Is that right or left?” I asked him.

“Right!” he said.  And he was correct, he was pointing to the right.

Except… right wasn’t east.  On that point he was wrong.  And backing down our driveway isn’t south.  But he’s only 5.  I think this method of learning about direction is just fine for right now.  My husband tends to disagree and thinks I should correct Snags, tell him the actual direction we are traveling.  But understanding that takes more skill than I think a five year old possesses.  It requires the ability to read a map for one.  It requires the ability to READ as another. 

Besides, even possessing those very important skills of literacy and map reading, my husband still manages to get us lost when he’s driving somewhere.

So for now anyway, I’m content to keep on heading north.  You know, as long as I can turn once in a while.



Filed under direction, driving, geography, humor, life, maps

6 responses to “Backseat Driver

  1. Jen

    I think y’all are just fine. How many other kids whip out the map and try to read it at age five? There’s probably no harm in pulling out an atlas at home and pointing stuff out, if you’ve got time. But I think he’ll figure it out soon enough. At least he doesn’t sit back there and read the speed limit signs to you. Mine does that, and then tells me the police are going to be very angry with me and haul us all to jail.

  2. Jen, LOL! Don’t get hauled off to jail. You don’t want to be a prison mama!

  3. Jo Beaufoix

    Snags is so clever.
    I think you’re right.
    Just realizing that North, South, East, West, Left and Right exist is pretty good going for a five year old.


  4. Loved this…..and heading North is wonderful. it is a lot better than things always going south. LOL
    I think if you correct him, then aren’t able to help him understand the true north, south, east and west, it just might discourage him altogether. We don’t want that.

  5. Jen

    Come by my place, you’ve got more pretty stuff to hang on your virtual mantel…

  6. I’m impressed that he knows his right and left and cares about the cardinal directions at all. You’ve got plenty of time to teach him about the more fluid nature of reading a map.

    Sounds like you have one cool little kid. 🙂

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