Maps & Shotgun

Shotgun. Not the weapon. The seat. You know what I'm talking about. It's the coveted passenger position in the car, next to the driver. Children jockey and argue for the privilege of sitting there. We have had many different ways of justly determining who gets shotgun. Finger shoot-outs like "Rock, Paper Scissors", or "Odds and Evens" seem most fair but take up a lot of time. "First One to the Car" can get dangerous as siblings rocket out of the house to be the first one to touch the passenger door. "Rotation" is a viable option. But it means keeping track.  And trading places each time we all get out and reload is a hassle because it's hard to remember who sat shotgun last. The race for the seat comes and goes. Sometimes no one wants shotgun at all. But, long road trips create the greatest tension and demand. (Please tell me our family is not the only one to deal with this.)

For me, it's common to have a son in shotgun.  Over the course of many years of road trips we developed a functional system. Steve drives, and I sit in back, managing spills, batteries, and books. It's not about being a subservient wife.  Sitting in the back has just plainly worked out to be more practical -- especially when the boys were little babies facing backward.  My backseat responsibilities have changed as we have grown out of tiny people in car seats into regular large-sized people with long legs.  Now, mostly I'm just another body sitting in the middle, between two iPod listeners -- because my legs are shorter than everybody except Lucas.  But, regardless of what develops in the back seat, in the front there has always been Steve, a son, and a map. 

Since they were very small, Steve has expected his sons to navigate. I remember four year old Andrew, sitting in his car seat, holding a huge Atlas, charting the course between Minneapolis and Chicago. Steve would keep one hand on the steering wheel, and lean back to point out the route, patiently showing the correlation between the abstract lines on the page and the world speeding by outside the window.

Later, Ty gained a passionate love of maps and traded into the role. Last month, on our last backpacking trip, he was the navigator with a topographic trail map. Thus, his  walkee-talkee code-name for that trip was "Scout." Over the years, each boy has taken the mapseat in shotgun next to Steve. Last summer, I had to laugh out loud when Andrew was driving and Isaac had the map seat. As we honed in on the last miles of a long trip to Illinois, they bickered like an old couple. It was a delight to sit in back, chuckling, with full confidence that they’d work it out and find our way.

They did work it out. We arrived at our destination because the boys know how to use a map. Steve has given them a love for knowing their course and direction --whether it is in a canoe on a river, on foot in the mountains, or in a car in the city. They enjoy seeing what water, terrain or exit we are about to encounter.  They value the map.

On trips over the years, the atlas has become rumpled, dog-eared and replaced many times over. My mind can quickly retrieve an image of any of the 4 boys sitting shotgun.  I can take that picture and morph it across our trips and navigation. Their growing sizes get larger and the map gets smaller in proportion. As they grow in the mapseat their hands get bigger, legs grow to touch to floor, and the seat skootches back. Heads progressively get higher until they sit above broad shoulders and tower above the head rest. Always growing, always traveling beside Steve, always with a map. 

I'm not as much of a map fan.  But I respect them.  Maps are dogmatic and unyielding. A map contains abstract truth about very concrete reality.  They are like human laws, or the Bible. They assume a true north. They allow us a satellite’s view, a bigger picture of common road blocks and natural barriers in our path. They help us see, “You can’t get there from here.” They show us when we’re lost. And sometimes make us feel more lost then we were before we got the map. They help us find our way back to where we got off track, and get us headed back toward our destination. 

That's my picture of fatherhood.  Steve has invited each of his sons to ride next to him in life. Over the miles of our family's ride together, he has chosen to talk a little and listen a lot. In the process, he has handed them the tools of journey. He has handed them the map.  It's  a Dad's job to explain what's happening outside the window, and what's up ahead.  He has to point to times when there is only a Dead End and quietly redirect when a chosen course goes amuck.   I have watched the very essence of Fatherhood happen because of the road atlas in the shotgun seat.  

We can't make our kids use the map.  We can't force them to choose the best course.  But, after a lot of miles of sticky seats and snacks, this I know for sure. Steve's sons have an understanding of life's True North, and the means to find their way.  He has given them a compass for literal asphalt highways, and the less visible path of faith.  And, they will all continue to grow beside him, until they step out on their own journeys and carry their own maps.  I'm confident, deep in their souls, even if they get really lost for a while and wander way off path, they'll always know how to find their life's true Way. 

And, for the record, when they all leave, I definitely get permanent dibs on shotgun. 

(The picture above is Ty.  Navigating Lost Creek Wilderness. 2009.)


Laura said...

i don't mean to gush, but holy cow, this is beautiful and powerful and must be in print somewhere soon. for real. really. really. awesome piece. inspiring and honoring to your husband, as well. i loved it. LOVED it.