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Coming of Age

August 13, 2012

Just like we did last year, every day of this trip we buy a postcard from the most interesting place we go and send it to Abby at camp to keep her updated on our journey and make her feel like she’s part of it. This morning I pulled over next to a mailbox so we could mail yesterday’s postcard. Sam jumped out of the car to mail the card, and as he walked back he looked … older.

I guess when we’re at home I’m usually so busy trying to get him to do something, or to stop doing something, or to get dinner on the table or kids to wherever it is they need to go that I don’t often just look at them. And just as I was thinking about how grown up he’s getting, he did a silly little wiggle that showed me he’s still a little boy. The whole thing lasted just a second or two, but it made me realize that he’s starting to transition from little boy into–what comes after little boy? Preteen? Yeah, OK, preteen.

I don’t know what his teenage years will bring or how our relationship will change, but I know that I’m running out of time with my little boy. So today I gave in to him.

Normally while we’re on the road I try to avoid activities that we can do at home, like zoos or aquariums. The Memphis Zoo claims to have been voted best zoo in America, but I still hadn’t planned to go there until Sam saw billboards for it all over the place and started asking if we could go. He loves animals and thus loves zoos, and since we had some spare time I gave in to the little boy in him.

The zoo turned out to be just OK. I’m not sure who voted it best in America but I’m guessing they’ve never been to the Bronx Zoo or the San Diego Zoo or the Miami Zoo or the St. Louis Zoo, because all of those are clearly better zoos. But all Sam cares about is seeing animals, so he had a great time, and I had a great time watching him have a great time.

Plus they have pandas, and pandas are always worth a few bonus points when ranking zoos.

I had wanted to take a tour of the Gibson guitar factory before we left Memphis but Sam wasn’t interested, so again I gave in. In retrospect I think he would’ve enjoyed it and I probably should’ve insisted, but I’m running out of time with my little boy and I didn’t want to spend any of it arguing about a guitar factory. Instead we hit the supermarket to stock up because Memphis is the last place we’ll find kosher meat before we get home next week, and then we headed east.

Knowing we would arrive in Nashville too late to do anything interesting, we took our time on the way there, stopping off to buy some supplies and a copy of The Lorax on DVD, which Sam had been begging for and which I figured he could watch as we drive to pass the time.

We also took a detour to drive several miles down the Natchez Trace Parkway, a National Scenic Parkway that runs about 450 curvy miles from Natchez, MS to Nashville. We were only on the Natchez for maybe half an hour but we saw some incredible things. The first was a complete surprise: a flock of turkeys wandering along the side of the road.

The second I knew was coming thanks to a little research: the Natchez Trace Arches, a hunormous bridge built about 20 years ago to help the parkway cross a valley about 20 miles southwest of Nashville.

A few minutes later we found an empty parking area long the highway, and as the sun went down behind some trees we grilled dinner and enjoyed the quiet and the view. All day I’d been thinking about these moments with him, and how they’ll change in tone and in content but that I hope that trips like this one and the experiences we’ve shared will strengthen our bond to a point where it can survive his coming adolescence and adulthood. We didn’t do anything that exciting today but it might be my favorite day of the trip so far. As we sat and ate dinner I watched him, and I tried my best to savor the moment while I couldn’t help wondering what’s to come.

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