Parenting/Travel: Eyeball to eyeball in Santa Rosa

Excerpt from "Ribbons of Highway: A Mother-Child Journey Across America." Published in 2004 and 2005 in print and online publications including Boston Herald-owned community newspapers, and Route 66 Magazine:

Eyeball to eyeball

By Lori Hein
Guest Columnist
Friday, May 7, 2004

Fifty miles from Tucumcari, the orange and adobe-colored land began to thrust itself upward into buttes and mesas, and wilder red rock in the distance promised utter majesty. The patient hand of time had sculpted the earth into art.

In San Jon, the cemetery's evergreens, all wind-bent in the same direction, were testament that the artist was still at work. Striations of color in the sandstone mountains told of creation working its craft across eons. Younger tan and ochre work rested near summits, ancient cinnamon and richer maroon layers deeper down.

This was a powerfully beautiful world where the ordinary seemed extraordinary. The bewitching headlights of a hundred-car Union Pacific made the train a shimmering mirage as it curved toward us through the desert. We were in a place where a freight train is the most magnificent thing you've ever seen.

In Santa Rosa, where truckers stopped to rest and refuel, we took in the amazing collection of vintage cars and Mother Road memorabilia at the Route 66 Auto Museum and talked with Anna, the owner. Adam and I both burned a roll of film on the gleaming Mustangs and GTOs, DeSotos and Impalas, Bel-Air Nomads and Tom Joad trucks, all with hoods up to show pristine engines. I asked Dana to take a picture of Adam and me in front of a tomato-red convertible, circa about when I was born. Dana found us in the lens, then put the camera down.

"Adam's taller than you!"

At least once a week over the past few months, before excusing himself from the dining room table, Adam would give me a slim-eyed look and say, "I'm taller than you," which, of course, required me to stand up and prove him wrong.

I knew the day would come when he'd be right. We always stood eyeball-to-eyeball, not heel-to-heel, because we enjoyed looking into each other's eyes, the one pair saying something like, "I'm not a kid anymore," and the other something like, "Hold on buddy, I'm still your mother."

Mike and Dana measured and refereed. I'd been winning by an almost literal hair for a while now.

Hearing Dana's pronouncement, Adam turned to me, grinning. Hugely. Never mind the vintage wheels. He was taller than his mother. If Dana, chief competitor in almost everything in life had said it, then it must be true.

We stood eyeball-to-eyeball. I disregarded the fact that he wore mega-huge rubber-encased Nikes that must have weighed three pounds and lifted him two inches off the floor (the same shoes the Mississippi had wrapped her mud around). I'd be conceding height to him soon enough. Why not now, while we were on a journey that allowed him to be a boy most of the time, but called on him to be a man some of the time.

I'd left Boston with a moody teenager. I was standing, 3,700 miles later, next to a beautiful young person I knew I could count on to take his headphones off when the situation asked for it, pitch in, keep cool, and help us through whatever bump in the road we faced. He was the man of the house - or van, or tent, or motel - for 12,000 miles.

"You are taller than me. When did that happen?"

We all grinned. Dana lined up her sights again and snapped the photo.