Year in Yosemite: The Long and Winding Road, Part 1
When I first became a parent, countless people came forward with advice. Almost all of it was useful and appreciated but none of it had the enduring quality of what my brother calls his First Rule of Parenting—never leave home without a coloring book and a bagel. In other words, if you want happy children, keep them fed and entertained.
These days I think of this rule every time I drive in Yosemite National Park. Thanks to the nation’s tax dollars, the south end of the park is getting a newly asphalted, spiffed-up road, complete with gutters and freshly painted double lines. What that means for future visitors is smooth roads and easier driving. For now, what that means is weekday traffic delays and congestion, with stops sometimes totaling more than an hour.
Last year, when the snow came and the roads were more than I felt I could handle, I burrowed in like a hibernating ground squirrel and hardly ever left my den. This year that is not an option, especially on Thursdays—the day I take my daughter and three of her classmates down to Oakhurst for classes.
The reason? At the end of last school year, the local school district officially closed our one-room school. Thanks to the community’s largess, for this year at least, our kids are being educated in an unusual home school/charter school/public school/private school mix. Which is the reason I leave Wawona each Thursday morning at exactly 9 o’clock. The charter school they attend does not begin until 10:15 and it’s only 25 minutes away, but that’s without construction delays. And these days there is no telling how long the shortest trip might be. (Last week, the school secretary got caught in three different traffic stops within the same quarter of a mile).
To stay sane (I am not a morning person and four children ranging in age from 8 to 11 locked in a car for more than an hour is not necessarily a quiet way to start your day), I have reverted to my brother’s First Rule of Parenting. I bring food. And I try to keep them entertained. The first week, we played word games. Okay, but not stellar. We all got tired of them after a while and then boredom, and goofiness, set in.
The next week I tried word games and coloring books. Again, results were only so-so. But this week I hit the construction-zone jackpot. We listened to a book on CD. And we were so engrossed that when we pulled up to the school, everyone asked to stay in the car. After years of driving in L.A. traffic, how could I have forgotten the importance of books on tape to a commuter’s sanity?
I think it’s because, if I’m alone, I’ve come to like the traffic delays. Thanks to my brother’s advice, I’m always armed with water, a snack, and a book. And once the windows are up, and the roar of the machines is muted, it’s actually lovely to be where I can’t be responsible for a single thing. No returning phone calls. No answering emails. No cleaning the house. No cooking a meal. Just a beautiful view of the tree-covered mountains and peace … if I’ve remembered to follow my brother’s second rule—never leave the house without taking a bathroom break.
-- Jamie Simons