Experts and Experience, or How a Chicago Cubs Fan Saved My Life
By Cathy Marciniak

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Two years ago I drove, with Eleven (my son), cross country to meet my daughter (Twenty) at college and deliver her car to her. Twenty-two hours over a 4 day period, from Texas to Illinois, with a 9 year old, in a '96 Mitsubishi Mirage. To say that I planned this trip with mere trepidation would be like saying ...well, it would be like saying something incredibly stupid.

But, the car was *here*, and it needed to be *there*, and as I recently explained to Twenty, it's a CAR, for Pete's sake; there's one easy way to move it. As with so many things in life, there was nothing for it but to turn the key, point it in the direction in which I needed to move it, and hope for the best. I loaded it up with my son, his stuffed armadillo and a stack of *Calvin & Hobbes* books in the back seat, plugged in the handy dandy nifty swifty new GPS thingy I'd purchased from Ebay, and consigned myself to the fates.

The fates were in one weird mood.

The entire state of Oklahoma was under road construction. The toll road connecting the actual official Middle of Nowhere to the Far Outer Reaches Of Nowhere had mysteriously *closed* its collection booths in the bars-down position, and I had pulled over and was contemplating the risk of damage to my vehicle from boonying around them on the median strip when an Okie with a monster SUV very considerately smashed through one gate so that I could proceed. Both -- not one, but both -- of the hotels I had reserved as waypoints had *moved*, changed locations entirely, from the addresses listed on their websites, which I had painstakingly programmed into the handy dandy nifty swifty GPS. I managed these wrinkles in the silken surface of my travels with my usual aplomb -- which is to say I drove in circles and cussed out loud a lot -- and was improving my self esteem by the mile. I was quite proud of my coping skills.

It was Saint Louis, The Crossroads of America, that broke me.

I'd carefully planned the last leg of the trip to begin just south of St Louis, and reached it just after the morning rush hour, when the roads were still packed with steadily moving traffic. The map on the handy dandy nifty swifty GPS was not particularly intimidating. There are about, I don't know, 20, major interstates that intersect in one of those super-duper multiple level cloverleaf traffic deals that rises about, I guess, 200 feet above the Mississippi River smack dab in the center of St Louis, and the HDNSGPS screen portrayed this with a big yellow blob with lines everywhere indicating the various state roads interstates and access routes. It looked like a squid, Eleven thought, or a jellyfish, with an arrow pointed into it. We ate a healthy breakfast, loaded the car, and headed straight into the jellyfish.

Which is where, just as I was negotiating 3 consecutive merges in 6 lanes of busy traffic, the HDNSGPS had a nervous breakdown.

I don't blame the HDNSGPS. It probably lost its satellite signal just as we entered the second level of the jellyfish. There were two levels of roads above us, and it got confused. And I know, it is a very stressful very disorienting, thing, to be lost in a moving vehicle, surrounded by other, larger, meaner, moving vehicles, vehicles peopled by drivers who know what they are doing, on a complicated, unfamiliar concrete structure suspended above an enormous body of water. I'm sure the jellyfish could cause even the most stable of machines to have a psychotic break and begin expressing suicidal ideation. I don't bear any hard feelings to HDNSGPS for wigging out and trying to get me killed.

This does not, however, mean that it was any help to me at the time. However stressful it is to be lost in a moving vehicle, surrounded by other, larger, meaner, moving vehicles, vehicles peopled by drivers who know what they are doing, on a complicated, unfamiliar concrete structure suspended above an enormous body of water ... Well, it's even *more* stressful to be all of that, with an hysterical machine repeating

"Off route. Recalculating. Off route. Recalculating. Take the next legal U turn. Turn sharply left. Off route. Recalculating. Turn left. Turn sharply right. Turn sharply right. Off route. Recalculating. Take the next legal U turn...."

while a 9 year old snickers in the back seat.

Mid-freakout, when I'd given up on *yelling* the HDNSGPS back to sanity --no matter how many times or how loudly or with how much profanity I informed it that the next legal U turn was in ILLINOIS or that the Mississippi was directly to my right and I was therefore NOT GOING TO TAKE A SHARP RIGHT, it was too far gone to listen to sense -- it occurred to me that I was on my own. If I'd been able to find an exit off the jellyfish, I'd have pulled off right then and there and sold the car to the first person who'd take it, and sent the HDNSGPS to a nice home with regular group meetings and modern psycho-pharmacology.

But, and not to get existentialist about it, exit was not an option. Nor was slowing down, pulling over to sob helplessly, flagging down a guide, or sending a call for the Okie with the SUV to come and save me. Eleven asked me where we were. I told him the truth: We're screwed, Kid.

A quick glance at the HDNSGPS map display informed that I wanted to go North, on I-55, toward Chicago. I reported this, also, to Eleven. One of us spied a white car, a lane to our right, with a Chicago Cubs bumper sticker. On the off chance that the driver of this vehicle was its owner, and had not just car-jacked some hapless tourist from Chicago, and on the even more off chance that he was headed home, I jerked over, offending a couple of Missourians (like I cared; I'd had quite enough of the Show Me state at this point. Show Me How The Hell To Get Out of Here.) and tailgated this Cubs fan through 4 merges. I did not bother with signals. Keep left, keep left again, keep right, oh merciful heavens, is that? -- It is! -- an I-55 North sign!!! Oh, praise providence, we are delivered! The clueless have prevailed, the jellyfish is vanquished!

Ironically, a year later that same car was totaled when a man who was reading a map while driving ran a stoplight.

But I do have a point and here it is: Sometimes when you're trying to make your way through the jellyfish of gifted kids and everyone else around seems to know where they are going and you don't, and the stakes could not possibly be higher, the "expert" advice you're getting sounds useless or destructive. This is not the experts' fault, necessarily. Our kids are weird. They are complicated, and difficult, and intense, and hard to get a bearing on.

At such times the really honest experts might recognize that they don't have all the answers, and tell you to listen to your gut, which is all fine and good but maybe your gut is *petrified*, and *desperate*, and you can't do what it's telling you to do -- you can't just *stop* navigating through life with them, you can't slow down and get a grip while you wait for the experts to cook up solutions for your immediate crisis, and you can't send out for someone who will crash through the barriers and get you straight where you need to go, assuming you even know where that is.

What should you do then? Well, first, turn off the experts who are blathering at you to drive yourself and your kid off a bridge. Take a deep breath, and forgive yourself your dependency and your failings. Calm the hell down, already.

And. Just Shut. Up. Stop arguing with the misguided machines that are SUPPOSED to know how to direct you, or THINK that they know how to direct you, but don't have a clue. - You may be right, and they may be wrong, and you may be able to prove that 2+2 does not equal 5 as they say it does right out in front of God and everybody, but that's not going to get you out of Saint Louis.

Then, try to be open to ideas or input from other sources, no matter how unlikely or out of place they may seem to be. If you're blessed and clearheaded enough to look up and see someone with experience, someone who just might be headed in the general direction of where you want to go, then realize: you need this person. Grip the wheel and follow her, for just a few miles, until you get oriented and can breathe again. Let her guide you to the outskirts of your mess, thank her, and then proceed to make your own way to your own destination.

I say this as a person who's been on this list and others like it, tailgating other people here who have helped me, just by example, navigate the trickiest, scariest routes of my parenting experience. I can't express how much I owe the peer consults here, and how valuable they've been, even in comparison to some of the most educated and helpful professionals I've also had the good fortune to have taking care of us. If K. or W. or P. or any others of these wonderful parents had been driving to Montana and not Chicago -- if they had been insistent on telling me what to do or if they had not been so willing to just *do* the right thing and let me watch them -- I'd not be here today.