During one school day a short while after our return from San Francisco, where Don and I had spent our anniversary, I sat down to read to the two little boys. Since there had been many questions about what we saw and experienced during our stay in San Francisco, I thought perhaps a book with a focus particularly related to the city might be of interest to them. I suggested Maybelle the Cable Car. They agreed. I had never read the book, but the author, Virginia Lee Burton, has written several other delightful children’s stories including Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, Katy and the Big Snow, and The Little House, with which I am more familiar. I did not think I would be disappointed. But was not sure about the boys.
As it turned out, it was a little bit over their heads in spots. And their attention waned. Not one to give up, and because I wanted to finish the story for myself, I continued; but at a rapid pace to get through and move on to the next story. Suddenly, out of their struggle to understand the language that was so far our of their understanding, they had all these questions… Why did the city burn? What is an earthquake? I gave quick answers and moved right back into the text in my quest to finish the book.
But they had more questions… How does an earthquake start a fire? What makes an earthquake happen? Do earthquakes happen here?
Again, my answers were brief, and back to the text. I was feeling slightly annoyed at the interruptions. At this point their squirming was becoming intolerable and I just wanted to be done and move on to the next thing.
But they had still more questions… Have you ever been in an earthquake? Did your house fall down? Do streets get wrecked? Do bridges break? As my impatience began to flare, I heard a small voice in my head that said “Go with it!”
So I did.
We got out some books on earthquakes. And on fires. Natural disasters of all sorts. And specifically about earthquakes in San Francisco. I told them about the much more recent Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989. I looked up photos so they could see the devastation. We discussed what our typical earthquake feels like, and why I don’t fear them and don’t think they need to worry either. We talked about disaster preparation. About having water and food stored for an emergency.
This took about 15 minutes, during which time they were rapt with attention and had many great questions.
Then the detour was over and we were back on track. We finished the book and moved on to the next one.
I’m thankful for that small voice. I’m thankful that I gave in to it. That I was willing to take the detour. So often, I am not. I’ve got my own agenda and plans.
Life is so much more than that. At the beginning, it looks like a straight path from start to finish. Then we get detoured on the side streets, the rambling country roads. And we find that that is where the real life happens. That is where the real learning begins. I need to remember to relax and let go. Don’t fear the detours. Don’t dread them. Embrace them. This is where joy is found.