It is so crazy how quickly children learn!
Every moment in their lives becomes an opportunity to learn something new. As we were traveling across Ohio to visit Daddy in prison, there were so many “teachable moments” we had together. We were not always conscious of how much our sons were learning from traveling to prisons.
When we first began to visit Ron in prison, the only navigation system we had access to was the atlas. I had an old, well used atlas in my car that I had picked up from a second-hand store. When they moved Ron to a new prison, my sons and I would lay the map out on the floor to locate the prison and the best route to travel. The first one to find the location got to mark the route with a bright yellow highlighter. This was one of Blake’s favorite activities when he was four and five years old! He would almost always find the location first and then carefully draw a yellow line from our town to the location of the prison. We would count the exits and find the mile markers on the map. They would then add those numbers along the way so we would be sure to find our exit.
For the first few years, Ron was placed in prisons that were 2-4 hours away.
We would get up extra early in the morning to get ready and load up into the car to make the drive to see Daddy. Blake would get to hold the map and watch the road for our signs to keep us on the right path. He was my first navigator and he took this job very seriously. I can still see his small face so intent as he looked from the map to the road signs and traced his fingers along the highlighted route. Blake would get so excited when we passed a town that matched what was shown on the map. Although he was so worried that we would miss our exit, so he would announce every number on the exit signs. He couldn’t read the words, but he knew his numbers and made sure I knew what number was coming up next.
Brandon rarely acted as navigator, but he always wanted to be the first one to see the prison.
He would ask, “Mommy, are we almost there? How many more lines until we are on Daddy’s road?” As soon as we turned onto “Daddy’s road,” Brandon would strain to lean forward and see the large brick complex, surrounded by chain-link fence and barbed wire. He would excitedly cry out, “I see it!! I see it!! Ready or not, here we come, Daddy!” As we pulled up to the ominous looking prison campus, Blake would proudly announce, “We are here, Mommy, my map worked”. Then, he would carefully fold his maps back up and put his bookmark in the atlas so we could find our way back home. When we first began to map our trips, he was particularly worried that we would not be able to find our way back home without the map. Soon, he didn’t even need the map to find the right roads back home.
I tried to make it a game…
The responsibility of finding our way and navigating was not lost for Blake. He assumed so much responsibility for making sure we were on the right path. He loved to plan the routes, loved to give directions and shout out mile markers. It made him feel important. And most importantly, it was something he had control over in the midst of his crazy upside down world. Having some control over your journey in life is important – even when you are only five years old. He learned to do many important things in those years: read a map, plan a trip, and find his way on the road to see Daddy.
Learning to set and accomplish goals is a lifelong process.
We have so many opportunities to help our children navigate through difficult chapters in their lives. I remember feeling so sad that Blake and Brandon “had” to help me find the prison. I felt like it shouldn’t be their responsibility. It wasn’t fair that they couldn’t just play in the back seat while I drove. Then I realized that they were playing. They were enjoying the game of finding the way to see Daddy. They were being empowered by winning the game every visit!
As you are traveling to visits, it is really important to tie your visits to “normal” life activities. Learning to use a map, staying the course, and paying attention to your surroundings. All of these things helped my boys learn that they have the power to make choices that will help them achieve their dreams. At three and five, their greatest dream was to spend time with their Daddy and they realized that dream. As their dreams changed, they knew they were capable of plotting out a path to achieve those dreams as well.
Dream, achieve, and then dream bigger!!
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