I miss maps.
You know, the paper kind. The ones that were folded in ways that made it impossible to refold once opened for actual use. And the big road atlas that lived in my battered old Subaru for years and helped me drive across the country from Wisconsin to California to Arizona and most of the national parks between.
When I arrived at the Charlotte airport last week I had no idea how to get where I needed to go, and the GPS on my phone was no help. Siri wasn’t even speaking to me (have you ever sworn at Siri? Try it—fun!) so I pulled into a 7-11 to get a map.
“Sorry, we don’t sell maps. Don’t you have a GPS?”
“It’s not working. Do you know which highway I take to get to Sparta?”
“You mean, Spartanburg, right?”
“There’s no such place in North Carolina.”
Ok, I’ve been to Sparta at least a few times so it definitely exists, but this clerk was pretty sure I was looking for a town in another state. Or country. She grabbed the FedEx guy who had just blocked in my rental Hyundai in the parking lot.
“Do you know where Sparta is?”
“You mean Spartanburg, right?”
After some more convincing that it really is a place, and it’s in the state we’re in, the clerk looked it up on her own phone. Voila! It is a real place! I took a picture of her screen with the directions I needed to get me somewhere closer to my destination.
The thing about maps – real maps – is that they show you not only the route to your destination but the bigger picture, the context of your journey. With a map I get to see which mountains I’m traveling through, the name of the river I’m crossing, where I’m going relative to the nearest city or neighboring state. I like to know how my trip fits into the bigger picture of things.
The same is true in life, isn’t it? We each track our journey through time in a linear way. You’re born, you grow up, go to school, maybe to college, get a job, maybe have a family, live through love and loss and growth and change, then you die. All in the forward moving line of time. But as we travel along this line of our lives, stepping back to see the bigger picture is invaluable.
When, after at least a few missteps on the highway and Blue Ridge Parkway, I finally arrive at my yes-it-is-a-real-place Sparta. After hugs all around, I settle in to enjoy the holidays with my son, his father and wife (the father’s wife, not my son’s) and kids (my son’s half-siblings) in our very 21st century family (do you need a family tree-map to follow this?). I look around and am struck by how my life has followed no path ever created by Good Housekeeping magazine.
Raising a child in the context of a village is great in many ways – my son has two moms, a dad, and a few sort-of stepmoms who are really more like actual moms (the English language doesn’t have adequate words for women who raise children as their own even when there is no blood relation). Throw in four grandmothers and two grandfathers, a dozen or so aunts and uncles, and I lose track of how many cousins Ben has, and that makes a village in my book. It means a lot of people who love this child who is mine only because I carried him in my belly for nine months. But the truth is, he is the product of a village.
Moving forward, this primary mom has a lot of big decisions to make with regards to this amazing child-rapidly-becoming-a-man. How to balance the needs and wants and ideas and realities of everyone?
I miss maps.