She who reads the maps rules the world

On the highways of life, mother still knows best


Michele Howe


Reader Essay I was furiously counting stitches, praying I hadn’t mistakenly dropped one, or more, which I tend to do when I get sidetracked or nervous or both. As I concentrated on reaching that 150-stitch mark, I couldn’t help but glance up to the front seat where my 65-year-old mother sat with her head bent over the Arizona state map.

It was an epiphany for me. Like every good daughter I have tried to hone my home management skills to impress upon my mother that, yes, I did indeed take heed to her lessons from years past. All in all, I’ve done pretty well. While I couldn’t prepare a meal when I first got married, I am now well beyond being a passably good cook, if I do say so myself.

Over the past almost 20 years of married life, I’ve accomplished quite a lot. I carried, gave birth to and nursed four children in just over six years. Then I homeschooled those children through eighth grade before happily waving them off in succession to spend the next four (teenage) years with their public high school teacher father.

I’ve read and reviewed more books than I care to remember or can count. I’ve written hundreds of parenting articles in the hopes of inspiring other fledgling women like me in their parenting tasks. And thanks to the suffering of my closest friends, I’ve written books for the single moms out there, a tribute to my girlfriends’ courage and resilience.

Still, and this irks me to no end, I cannot—and probably never will—succeed in one area that my mother has perfected. Map reading. Plain and simple, the one who reads the maps rules the world.

 I’ve seen it time and again. No matter how many other intelligent, gifted and accomplished souls inhabit the planet, the person who holds the map holds the future—might as well throw in the past and present while I’m at it.

I’ve watched my mom at work. Believe me, she has her technique down to a science. Before leaving on any trip, long-distance or just across town, my mother has no qualms about getting out her stash of maps. With a genteel grace, she spreads out these old, wrinkled specimens on the kitchen table, peers down at the intersecting lines and colors (which I cannot decipher), and, lo and behold, finds what she’s looking for.

It’s simple, she tells me. Then her pointer finger begins its automatic trek across the page, detailing every highway and byway from start to finish. I have long suspected that Mom’s finger is really a magnetic homing device in disguise. And perhaps it is, because, one way or another, she finds the shortest route to the heart of any city and the heart of any matter. Mom’s ability to read maps is no more astonishing than her ability in reading minds—mine in particular.

As I sigh with impatience, Mom slows me down in her gentle, causal style. She lingers over the scheme of comings and goings, entreating me to do the same. Whether on the telephone or in person, Mom makes me feel as if I’m her most important stopping point of the day. After we chat or visit, I do admit to coming away with the inner rejuvenation one experiences after having basked in the sun and sea for days.

I’m worth the journey, even if it is one where Mom has to navigate detour after detour to get to my heart’s reluctant hiding spot. Or on more clear-weather days, Mom has only to redirect my line of vision to the stop signs in front of me. In any case, my mom’s intuitive, direction-finding nature has saved me from countless mishaps and backtracking.

I used to be jealous of Mom’s sense of direction, especially when my own seemed so out of whack. But lately, I’ve been giving thanks for it. Perhaps, with age and experience, I’ll become one of those rare individuals who holds a map with selfless, casual confidence. But until that time, I think I’ll check in with Mom before I take any important trips. 

Michele Howe is a writer and mother of four who lives in LaSalle Mich. Her most recent books include Prayers for Homeschool Moms and Prayers for New and Expecting Mothers.

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