I have many strengths.
I have been told by a very good therapist that I should work on appreciating my strengths as a person. I should engage in positive self-talk, to help me quiet the critic in my head.
After following her advice, I am now able to enumerate some of my strengths.
I am kind. I am intelligent. I can cook. I’m really good with kids. I have a way with words, and I am reasonably musical.
The down side of knowing my strengths is that I also know my weaknesses. Especially the hugely glaring ones. Like my absolute and total lack of any semblance of a sense of direction.
I am not kidding.
When my oldest child wanted to visit a bunch of colleges along the east coast, I contacted the schools, made some appointments and packed my bags. My husband, practical guy that he is, asked if we had a map, a Triple-A plan book or any idea of where we were going. “Of course.”, I answered confidently, “I plan to drive east until I hit the ocean and then take a right.”
Two weeks later, in spite of the plan book, the maps and the itinerary which he had so graciously provided, Kate and I found ourselves lost in Manhatten, Philadelphia, the Jersey Shore, Delaware and Washington DC. We had a blast!
Many years ago, I worked as a speech/language therapist for a Visiting Nurse Association. Every time I picked up a new patient, I had to get to his house by going first to at least two other patients’ houses so that I could find my way. “OK, go from the office to Bobby’s place, then take the right that goes down to Michael’s house. From Michael’s head toward Anna’s, and the new kid will be on the right.” I wasn’t a very efficient therapist, but I did manage to tour the whole city on my rambling drives.
Recently, my directional challenges have been put to the test. A few weeks ago, I took my Mom to see a new doctor at a hospital about 5 miles from her house. I called the office for directions, wrote them down, then used Google maps for good measure. I still managed to drive past the main entrance twice, and had to call my younger sister for specific step by step guidance to get to the right office. I felt like an idiot.
You should know a few things about my family before I go on. First of all, my Mom, bless her 81 year old heart, is as bad as I am at finding her way around. And my brilliant daughter, the world traveler, is perhaps even worse than we are. Clearly, there is a genetic predisposition toward wandering blindly around the countryside, especially when any of us are behind the wheel of a car.
My Dad, on the other hand, was born with an internal GPS the like of which the world has never seen. He could look at a map once, and instantly find the shortest route to a place he’d never been. Twenty years later, no matter how much construction had been done or how the roads had changed, he’d be able to find his way back to his exact same parking spot without ever consulting a map. It was uncanny.
I learned to drive with my Dad to guide me, but once I was on my own, he was no help. You see, he tended to give directions based on his internal map, rather than on reality. “You know where Scollay Sq. used to be?”, he’d ask me. “No.”, I would answer honestly. Dad would frown. “Well, go down there, to where Scollay Square was, and then take that first right.” I could never understand what he meant, and he could never understand how I managed to get lost over and over again in the town where I grew up.
Yesterday my Mom had to have a colonoscopy. Because it is school vacation, I happily volunteered to bring her to the appointment. I was careful about my planning, too, because I know myself pretty well by now. I checked and rechecked the directions. I carefully wrote down the exact address of the satellite clinic where the procedure would be done. I once again went to Google maps and found the directions. I printed the directions. I carefully put the directions in my purse and my purse in the car.
I picked Mom up an hour and a half before her appointment, knowing that the clinic was 20 minutes away. I left myself time to get lost, you see. I was being entrusted with the care of the family Matriarch, at a moment when she was feeling weak and shaky. All five of my siblings were counting on me to get her there safely and to bring her safely back home. Gulp!
When we headed out, I was sure that I was prepared. I had even stopped to buy water and goldfish crackers for her care and feeding on the way home!
Well, we followed the Google directions perfectly and got to our destination an hour early. I smiled to myself so smugly! We parked, we got out, we walked up the street. No clinic.
We walked back down the street. Still no clinic.
We entered a local dental office to ask for some help. A very friendly, helpful young man with a thick Russian accent looked at our paperwork, both the Google printout and Mom’s original orders from her doctor.
“Ach.” He said wisely. “You are in wrong city. Zis street is Kembridge Street in Kembridge. You need Kembridge Street in Bohston. You are in very much wrong place.”
I felt as if I had just grabbed onto a thousand volt live wire. My heart literally lurched, and I broke out in a sweat. By now it was thirty minutes before her appointment. The appointment that she had spent three uncomfortable days preparing for! What if she had to reschedule, and it was all my fault!?!
Gah!!! I pushed poor Mom into a chair in the dentist’s office and took off at a dead run, racing back the two blocks to the parking garage. The whole time, as I ran panting and gasping, I could hear my father’s voice, clear as day in my ear. “You went to the wrong CITY?! You didn’t double check the CITY!?” I careened up the ramp to the car, hitting the automatic unlock as I ran. “Shut. Up. Dad.”, I panted. “Just send me the directions from Heaven already!”
I screeched out of the lot, wanting to go two blocks left to pick up my ever patient mother. Nope. Right turn only. I cursed loudly and energetically as I tore out of the lot. It took a solid five minutes of right turn after right turn before I found my way back to the land of the helpful Russian. I bundled Mom into the seat, and then realized that I still had no idea of how to get to the right place.
So what could I do?
I made a call to my younger sister, the one who rescued me the last time that Mom and I were lost. The sister who inherited every brain cell of our Dad’s GPS device. The one who, miraculously, didn’t yell “YOU WENT TO THE WRONG CITY?!” Instead, she calmly and carefully directed us the two miles to the correct Cambridge Street, and stayed on the line as I frantically searched for a place to park.
I squeezed into a parking space, sought directions from a wonderful middle eastern parking attendant (“Be calm. If you are cool, all will be fine.”), and finally found the right office. We arrived about five minutes late, both of us shaking and breathless.
The procedure went well, the findings were happily all normal, and we managed to somehow find our way back home. When my sisters arrived at Mom’s house, they had some fun teasing me, and making references to “Mr. Magoo’s car racing around looking for the hospital.”
I laughed, but I have rarely if ever felt so inept, so foolish, so inadequate. I tossed and turned all night, dreaming of traffic, of crowds, of being lost, of funny men with foreign accents. I wondered why my Mom hadn’t yelled at me for screwing it up again.
This morning, my doorbell rang, and these were delivered, with a note of thanks “for always going beyond”.
I just hope that she didn’t mean, “Always going beyond the entrance, always going beyond the parking lot, always going beyond the right city.”!