If you have a kid you’ve probably read this, one of Dr. Seuss’
most popular children’s books in which he explains what it takes to “go places” and what to expect along the way – a fitting message for anyone at any point in their life. I’ve read this book a thousand times; over and over so my kids could (once again) study the crazily winding paths laid out on the pages. “You have brains in your head” says Seuss, “You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go…”
And now that two of my three kids are in college and the third is now receiving acceptance letters from the places he “wants” to go, I realize that the message must have sunk in. All three of them have taken to their own path as if they were born to it. And lucky me, I get to benefit from their adventurous spirits.
This past Sunday I went to Bloomington to visit my son Eli at IU. Our visits are typically short, but sweet. Let’s face it, he’s a college sophomore with little in common with his Mom. We make simple conversation. I try to keep him updated about what’s going on back “home,” but I know that in reality this small college town is now his home and completely unfamiliar to me.
11:30am, I pick him up at Collins, his dorm. His hair is bed fresh and his eyes look tired. I’m guessing he got up when I texted him to say I was 10-15 minutes away. Earlier, we talked about having breakfast, so I had been keeping my eye out for places to eat as I drove in, but he hops in the car, saying, “Let’s go to the Runcible Spoon.” It was a place I’d heard of from Ariel, so the name didn’t throw me, but the fact that he wanted me to go there with him made me feel a little cool.
The restaurant is walking distance from the dorm,
but we drive because it’s cold out and easier to find parking a few blocks from campus. Eli walks five steps ahead of me. His six and a half foot legs can’t help it. We pass through the front patio, the outdoor tables and chairs pushed aside and hugging each other for warmth. He opens the door and we stand in the entry with another couple amid flyers and notices pinned to the wall and door, the space so tight our shoulders touch.
The restaurant is packed with people and its warm yellow walls are covered with art and memorabilia related to the story the restaurant gets its name from, The Owl and the Pussycat, by Edward Lear. The owner himself, Matt O’Neill, escorts us down a narrow staircase to the basement dining room where we make ourselves cozy in a corner booth. Eli talks briefly to a group of friends sitting a few tables away. The Runcible Spoon is the kind of place you literally bump into people, both people you know and people you might get to know.
As I had been driving an hour and a half, a trip to the bathroom was essential, so I asked Eli to direct me. “Up the stairs,” he said, “and turn right.” Directly across from the white-tiled coffee bar is a single door – no women’s and men’s, just one bathroom. I open the door and the first thing I notice is water trickling into a claw foot bathtub setting alongside the sink and toilet. It had been subzero temps that week, so I think, they’re trying to keep the water running to prevent the pipes from freezing. But as I close the door behind me, I can see the inflow of water has a different purpose: the tub is full of, not the usual cleaning supplies and spare rolls of toilet paper, but aquarium gravel, rock formations and water plants. I can’t see the fish, but I’m sure they are there, hiding among the aquatic décor. I try not to stay too long (because there is only one, like I said), but the tile work on the floors and walls is worthy of more time: iridescent greens and blues, fabulous handmade tiles with various types of fish in them, all exquisite.
Back at the table, we order breakfast. A group of girlfriends sitting across from us shares a pitcher of mimosa. I never had such close friends at that age, but Ariel does and sometimes I envy this generation’s network. It makes me happy though, to know my kids have others to turn to for love and support – to help them along on their journey.
It takes only a few minutes to get our food and we chat a little as we eat our breakfast, which is excellent and just enough. We talk about his classes, my job, the weather and the coming Spring break. I wouldn’t mind, but I know, we can’t stay long. It is our silent pact, for now, to keep it light. I’m only sad I didn’t get a chance to try their house roasted coffee. I hear it’s amazing.
I could have had my own plan for the two of us: breakfast at Perkins or Denny’s, but it would have been an old and familiar experience, something I already know. The truth I’ve learned from letting others choose (especially my kids) is that although the places we go and the things we do might be unpredictable and unfamiliar, they will always be adventures I never would have had without them. And so in a way, by accompanying my kids in their world as adults, I get to know them a little better and learn about new things and new ideas. I get to explore different aspects of my own culture, take in new experiences, expand and become more as a result.
In my opinion, we seek out the company of others, family, friends and lovers, to help expose us to more than we could ever imagine on our own. At this point in my life, as Seuss says, “I know what I know” and sometimes that status can be limiting. Because what I know is already mine and there is nothing to learn from that. Learning is the only way to grow, to prevent stagnation. Although it can sometimes comfort us when needed, an over dependence on the familiar is the first ingredient in a recipe for boredom and that isn’t a place I want to go. In the end, I think Dr. Seuss clearly understood the adventurous spirit that catapults us into other people’s lives and the sweet surprise that comes with letting someone else decide where you’ll go.
“You will come to a place where the streets are not marked. Some windows are lighted. But mostly they’re darked. A place you could sprain both your elbow and chin! Do you dare to stay out? Do you dare to go in?
How much can you lose?
How much can you win?” ― Dr. Seuss, Oh, the Places You’ll Go!