01 May 2006

I-65 Live with Owen Mike

The older my kids get the more I see them passing developmental milestones that I remember passing. Ellie’s first day on crutches last month took me back to the two weeks I flailed around on crutches after a particularly nasty bike wreck.

Owen’s reading has caught up with some of my memories, too. Of course, the first book I remember reading was a book about Jairus’ daughter, while Owen’s choice of books tends more towards encyclopedias. He’s got me there, definitely.

Recently, Owen has taken to reading street signs whenever we drive somewhere. “Speed Limit 45, Dad,” he chirps from his place in the middle section of the minivan. “Are you going 45?” Now he has figured out how to read the speedometer, so it often sounds more like this: “Dad, you’re going too fast. The speed limit is 35. Slow down!”

The first weekend in March our family shook off some winter weariness by taking a road trip. The road trip is an essential and unique aspect of American culture—a time when the family gathers together, shares experiences, and has some bonding time. In other countries families do this at meal times, but here in the States, we strap on the seat belts and burn a few gallons of Saudi Arabia’s finest.

The whole togetherness thing didn’t happen right away. Ellie buried her nose in a book in the back seat, and Jonah perched the portable DVD player on his lap and watched “Jay-Jay the Jet Plane.” Owen began a play-by-play, sign-by-sign routine that would last the whole two-hour trip.

As we approached the on-ramp, Owen noted, “Interstate 65 that-a-way.” He paused. “Yield,” he intoned deeply.

Our minivan bounced through the hills of southern Kentucky. “Road construction 1500 feet,” he announced as we passed an orange sign. He took a quick breath and added, “Road construction 1000 feet, [another quick breath] Road construction 500 feet.”

Exit signs showed what a good reader Owen has become. “Mumfordville,” “Bonnieville,” and “Lietchfield” rolled out of his mouth without a hitch. Mile markers became chances to practice his knowledge of numbers. Owen, who can read his numbers up to 99, got the chance to practice the higher numbers. “Mile one-one-seven,” he said.

“One hundred seventeen,” I corrected him. Owen refused to take the bait. He looked at me for a second. “That’s right,” he grinned. Quickly he turned his face away and announced, “Mile one-one-eight!”

He even found ways to read signs that didn’t say anything. Again and again he would say, “Bumble-bee sign!” I couldn’t tell what he was talking about until we passed a bridge. At the sight of the diagonal yellow-and-black striped sign, he said it again: “Large Bumblebee Sign!”

“Narrow road,” I instructed. “It means the road narrows.”

Owen didn’t think much of my reading ability. “It’s a Bumblebee Sign, Dad,” he said with a tone of disparagement in his voice.

We were driving through a construction zone just north of Bowling Green, Kentucky, when the whole speed limit thing came up again. “Speed limit 55,” he proclaimed. I admit I wasn’t paying much attention—I was trying to listen to a book Jenny was reading to me.

A few minutes later, he said it a little louder, “Speed limit 55!” I looked in the rearview mirror. I could see him looking past my shoulder at the speedometer. “Dad!” he said, “You’re going too fast!”

“It’s OK,” I tried to reassure him. “You can drive a little faster than the speed limit here.”

“You’re going 65 and the speed limit says 55!”

“OK, fine.” I let my foot off the gas pedal as we reached the crest of a hill. I looked back at Owen. He was still scrutinizing the speedometer, but he was silent. As the van careened down the other side of the hill at exactly 55 miles per hour, I spotted the front end of a police car peering around a corner. I was safe, and I had a five-year-old to thank for it.

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