Road Scholar

Road Scholar by Lisa Bullard | Writing Road TripI 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.

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