When college kids come home for the holidays, moms and dads can’t help but dig out the old safety monitor vests. This is especially true in our household.
Over Thanksgiving, our out-of-state freshman had his first long trip home without a parent in the car. He’s an excellent driver, knock Stradivarius wood. But I’m a mother and I’m also me, which is a terrible combination. I worry. I know what’s out there on the road of life. Weather droppings, deer-crossing signs and worse — other humans.
My husband and I were reminded how dopey our species can be just a few months ago, when we drove back from a visit to our son’s campus. We were floored by what we encountered on the highway. Namely, the idiot who was driving a swaying flatbed trailer. He was transporting a teetering pile of about 30 loosely bungee-corded clothing dressers with unsecured drawers. It was basically a giant rolling Jenga game speeding across the Flint Hills in a crosswind. This cannot be unseen. Especially by a mother.
So yeah, I was a little nervous about my child sharing the road with a convoy of un-sharp tools. To cope ahead of time, I did the worst thing you can do to a responsible, tech-savvy young person. Behold my brilliant maneuvers, in step-by-step narration:
1. Even though the actual trip home is 99 percent driving north on one interstate, I looked up the official directions on MapQuest. (This site still exists, btw. Just Google “How People Used to Travel.”) In my defense, the highway branches off a few times in urban areas. One must pay attention.
2. I printed out said directions.
3. Then, I took a blank piece of paper and wrote supplementary pointers with a thick, black sharpie. I jotted down things like, “The rest stops on the Turnpike are left-lane-entrance-and-exit only. Merge carefully.”
4. I stapled the Sharpie notes to the MapQuest directions.
5. All along, I was fully aware my son has GPS and Siri gadgetry, plus common sense, yet I carefully folded these circa 2002-style travel papers and placed them in a physical envelope for U.S. postal service mailing. My reasoning? Solar flares could disturb satellites and cell towers. Or, my son could lose his phone and/or temporarily misplace his abundant IQ points.
6. I found a stamp.
7. I snail-mailed the printed directions to his dorm.
Let me repeat this act so it can marinate in public for a while: I snail-mailed printed MapQuest directions to a tech-savvy 18-year-old.
My freshman probably opened the envelope, stared at the contents and thought, “Wuuttt?”
Proof: There was no sign of the MapQuest Manifesto anywhere in his car. That was OK. We parents had plenty of Safety Ammo for both sons the entire holiday.
My husband, bless his heart, took on the role of Automobile Maintenance Adviser. He would quiz the boys. “Now, why do you keep your gas tank full in the winter?” Then he would answer his own question while gesturing with much enthusiasm. “Because, one, condensation could form in the tank! And, two, you could get caught in a snowstorm!”
He went on and on all weekend with talk of wiper fluid, battery cables, air gauges. It was a series of one-sided conversations. As my husband was pretty much rattling off the entire O’Reilly Auto Parts inventory, our sons were politely nodding and peeking at their cellphones. All the while, I was huddling over my computer double-checking extended weather forecasts and printing out reverse directions.
Our only hope is each son picked up a bit of our wisdom. That maybe somewhere within their skulls they heard our message: Watch out for Jenga Man, because we can’t wait to hug you guys again this Christmas, and many more to come.
Freelancer Denise Snodell writes twice a month.