I used to say, when I lived in New York, that I knew the subway system like the back of my hand — the alphabet salad of IRT, BMT, A through F, R and Q; the numbered choices 1 through 9; the uptown, the downtown, the Grand Central shuttle — it was a way of life. Now that I’ve been living in LA for over two decades, the freeways are second nature — the 101 to Santa Barbara; the 405 to nowhere you need to be quickly; the 210, the 110, the 10 (could there be any more 10s?). But my ability to navigate a map of the 50 states? Let’s just say I missed that train. Passed that exit ramp. Game over.
It’s not that I don’t know the state of the states. It’s just a few pair that always trip me up. Wisconsin and Minnesota. Colorado and Kansas. Missouri and Arkansas. The Dakotas (I can differentiate the two from each other, of course — once I’m sure of which two they are). And then there’s Wyoming and Montana.
So, in an effort to solidify what’s where, we’ve tried a number of learning techniques at home. I should preface this all by saying that B. loves maps, loves geography, and can list the states from north to south, column by column, or east to west, row by row, or in any other combination you’d like. It’s annoying. Anyway, back to me.
We’ve tried jigsaw puzzles — the images only last in my head until it’s time to break down the puzzles in order to eat dinner at the coffee table (three nights later). We’ve even tried those color-in-the-states kids’ place mats. The result? Unfortunately, I appear to be more interested in the colors than the states (that one makes left-brained B. nuts). Then there were the flashcards — those somehow rapidly descended into a game of gin rummy.
The solution came seemingly out of nowhere. It started with an itch that needed a scratch. B. couldn’t reach the spot on his back so I offered to help.
Me: (waiting, pondering, tentatively scratching)
He: “Lower and to the left. That was Minnesota.”
He: “Now over to Nebraska.”
Me: (taking a shot)
He: “Not Nevada — Nebraska. Head right and up a little.”
Me: (moving right and wondering if it wouldn’t be easier just to buy him a back scratcher)
The technique seems to be helping, although I do still get a little bit lost between New Hampshire and Vermont or between Iowa and Ohio. The good news is that despite the (fewer now) mix-ups, B.’s back does get scratched. The better news? Occasionally, I even surprise myself.
The other day he thought he’d challenge me with a please-scratch-me city location. “Portand,” he said, the gauntlet thrown down. Not even blinking, I coolly came back with, “Oregon? Or Maine?” He looked at me admiringly. “Nicely done. Oregon.” I grinned, bowed, and proceeded — to the opposite coast.
It was worth it to see the look on his face. Game, set, and scratch.
©2020 Claudia Grossman