Tuesday, January 7, 2014

For the Love of Northwest (no, not the the Kim and Kanye kind)

Ethan has a new love. It's a direction: namely, northwest.

So, my car has a tiny display screen in the rear view mirror that shows the temperature and direction. Lately we've all had fun watching the thermometer dip precariously close to zero. At the same time, Ethan started learning in school about the sun rising in the east and setting in the west. Add that to learning how to read all of the highway signs right near our house (91 North-Springfield/South-Hartford), and directions are becoming a big deal around these parts.

Of course, around here the roads are not straight and simple, as in some places I've visited in the Midwest or west (it's funny to think of driving on cruise control and barely tilting the steering wheel for miles and miles). We always seem to be weaving our way around hills or across rivers or past old cities that were planned by people who weren't thinking. As a result, the directions on my display screen are constantly changing. This had not really been an issue, until Ethan started watching them like a hawk.

"Oh! It's south now! Now southeast. Now we're going west. Back to south." This running commentary would have been bad enough, but Anna decided to get into the action. She taught Ethan about normal and cardinal directions (apparently what she meant to say was "ordinal," not "normal" directions, but whatever!). Then, ever the one to think of ideas her brother would enjoy, she invented what I'd call the "robot announcer" (a.k.a. the Guaranteed-to-Give-Mom-a-Migraine) game. Ethan's role is to announce the temperature, which direction the car is driving, and whether it is a "normal" or cardinal direction, and Anna makes a brief comment on the current weather, followed by a thank you to their imagined listening audience. So, picture something like:

Ethan (in robot voice): Twenty. Eight. Degrees. Southeast. Cardinal direction.
Anna: And now it's time for another weather report! We're seeing mostly cloudy skies with a chance of snow later. Thanks for listening to Anna and Ethan radio!

Four seconds later, as soon as Ethan sees the direction change:

Ethan (robot voice again): Twenty. Eight. Degrees. South. Normal direction.
Anna: And it's STILL cloudy outside, and it's going to snow out there, so bundle up, people!   ...and on and on  and on.

Who knew that on a simple seven-minute ride from Ethan's school to home, we'd change directions about 33 times? Imagine my chagrin when Anna said excitedly, "Just WAIT until we play this game the next time we drive up to Maine!"

Ethan has started to pick up a little more, geographically speaking. In addition to knowing where the sun sets and rises, he's also informed me that south is New York City, and north is Gramma's house.

Somewhere along the way, he also noticed that whenever we pull our car into the driveway, we are pointing northwest. Something about that impressed him -- probably the comfort in the sameness. He knows no matter what, when we pull up and park the car, no matter where we've been, no matter that the temperature may have dropped 40 degrees in eight hours (as happened yesterday), that NW will still appear faithfully in the display.

Northwest has grown near and dear to his heart. As we drive, he takes special pleasure when the display changes to NW. "Northwest!" he always announces happily. "Just like in our driveway." No other direction gets such special treatment. Sometimes he'll even call to me: "Mommy, look! Northwest!" not wanting me to miss the moment.

One day we discussed the northwest. Anna has been to the northwest U.S. -- we took a trip to Seattle when she was two. We talked about what would happen if we got in the car and drove nowhere but northwest, non-stop. My geography could be failing me here, but I thought we'd end up somewhere near Alaska.

But Ethan doesn't want to go on any grandiose adventures. He just wants me to drive to the grocery store or to get gas, so he can watch the directions change. And if we happen to go northwest, well, he's about as happy as any six-year-old you'll find.

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