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Reversing the Ivan Curse

My dad has many fine qualities and talents. His sense of direction and spatial capacity do not number among them.  The same man who can tell you about every Dutch portrait ever painted, discuss drug interactions in dizzying detail, and make a rocking cradle that makes you want to have a dozen kids just so you can use it, can—and has—gotten lost in his own neighborhood.

I first realized how bad it was on a trip to Italy in my teens. Dad and I were walking from our hotel to a museum (or at least trying to), when we took a wrong turn. “Let’s sit down and take another look at the map,” I suggested. “We’ll just walk around until we stumble across it,” he countered. “It can’t be that far from here.” Having gotten lost in cars with him many a time, I understood that map reading was not his strong suit. What I didn’t realize is that map-and-directions-wise, he had abandoned all hope.

I, alas, inherited a less severe form of dad’s special hopelessness. The first signs showed up when I volunteered as a candy striper in middle school. I’m afraid that some of my patients got quite the hospital tour before arriving wherever they were supposed to go. I’m a very stupid rat in a very difficult maze any time you put me on a college campus. In fact, I finally got better only after using the following technique: When leaving a classroom, turn whichever seems the most instinctive. Then stop and go in the exact opposite direction.

I’m not joking. There’s at least one college friend reading this who is a repeated eyewitness to my navigational flailings.

Only when I moved to San Francisco did I get better about finding my way. Months of map study before I ever moved, the luxury of learning my way around on foot and on public transportation, and being surrounded by easily identifiable natural and manufactured landmarks is what made it possible. Back in Louisville, which is laid out in more of a hub-and spoke design and provides fewer landmarks, I can do OK navigation wise so long as I stick to familiar routes and study new ones ahead of time with the intensity of a yeshiva boy pouring over the Talmud. If my route has to change, my brain strains and the flop sweat begins.

This background is all a prelude to saying, with great joy, that Simon breaks the chain. Interested in street names and highways for a year now, he can accurately navigate his way home from school and to and from a variety of relatives’ houses. “Is this Kaye Lawn?” he’ll ask my mom. (It is).  “Ok, mommy, turn left on Speed. Now turn right on Cowling Avenue!” (Thanks buddy!) Matt has even trained him on the expressways:

What are we on, Simon?


East or West?


It’s a hoot. He can still get a bit confused if we do an I-264 to I-71 to I-265 maneuver or take an unfamiliar exit. But he has a better understanding of basic routes than I ever did as a child.

And just three days ago, he stood at the top of the steps on the second floor at KIP, looked at the staircase behind him, and said, “We’re standing over the hall downstairs. They sit on top of each other.”

I’d say “of course,” but for the fact that it took me a couple of years to understand that my kitchen stairs sit directly on top of my basement ones. Simon, honey, I am delighted that your greatest challenge at University will not be finding your class. Thank goodness the curse is lifted! And no one, dear boy, will be happier to hear the news than your Zadie, a man who’s affliction has only lately abated, and then only due to the arrival of the personal GPS.

3 Responses to “Reversing the Ivan Curse”

  1. Amanda says:

    LOL. My brother and mom suffer the same affliction. Keith, confounding all stereotypes, stops andt asks directions. Mom insists her sense of direction isn’t bad; we once took 3 hours for a 40 minute trip. It IS that bad. I’m pretty good, and once I see a map I’m very good, but for some reason my mental map in Columbia is flipped. I think it might be because of spending all those years in Ann Arbor, where the highway was south of the U. Here it’s north and I always want to go exactly the wrong way.

  2. bethnbobinnc says:

    I’m still laughing! I hadn’t checked in in a few days so I’m just reading this. I am, in fact, the college friend who has witnessed this on multiple occasions. :)

  3. Jessica says:

    Oh my God, Beth. As I began to write this, ALL I could think of were the hundred or so times we’d leave a building, I’d turn one way, and I’d feel your hand on my shoulder as you redirected me with a bemused “how can you still get this wrong?” look on your face. It took me ages to realize that I cannot rotate images in space. Knowint the root problem makes it a bit better, but I’d still love to swap out that part of my brain.

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