I once had an “aha” moment while giving my nephew a ride on a beautiful summer day. He was in that early stage of adolescence: old enough to sit in the front seat, but young enough that riding shotgun was exciting. But during this ride, he was giving off strange signals. He twitched. He wiggled. He squirmed. When we pulled up to a red light, I turned to look at him.
“What’s the matter, buddy?” I asked.
He returned my query with a long moment of silence — a sign that a kid of his age is torn between playing it cool and tossing the grenade to an adult.
Finally he burst out with it. “Lisa, my butt is on fire!”
My first reaction was confusion. Was this some new slang term I needed to look up on Urban Dictionary? No, the quaver in his voice told me he was being literal; for some reason, the kid had a broiling back end, and it was inciting terror within him.
It took me way too long to figure out what was going on: a) the kid had somehow managed to click on the seat heater button with his knee, and more importantly, b) he was convinced that his fiery behind was some heretofore unmentioned sign of the onset of puberty.
I reassured him that the fire lay hot in the car and not in himself. But internally I was pinging with this reminder: for kids, life is a constant stream of unknowns. Adults remember to warn young people about some of what’s coming (puberty means hair will grow in surprising places!) — but for every heads-up, there’s something else we grown-ups take so for granted that we neglect to issue a caution. It wasn’t unreasonable of my nephew to wonder if the adults in his life had forgotten to mention that one day, one of his private parts would start sizzling, since every day of childhood delivers unexpected oddities. Growing up is all about learning to navigate with a GPS system that only functions sporadically.
So as I come to the end of the Writing Road Trip blog, I’m offering my argument for making story-writing a key part of any child’s education: it’s one of the best ways I know for kids to develop the skills they’ll need to navigate life’s surprises. Writing fiction allows them to take life out for a test run, to wander down the roads not taken, to journey into the portions of the map labeled “here be dragons.” Even better, what they learn on writing road trips becomes a part of who they are. It makes them empathetic. It makes them problem-solvers. It makes them sky’s‑the-limit dreamers capable of inventing both the next big thing and their own best futures.
Storytelling, like navigating by the stars, is an ancient art. Teaching it to young people gives them a tool to find the path upon which the light shines the brightest for each of them.