Move aside, the kid has a map

She is five years old, skipping across the parking lot with a paper map squeezed beneath her arm and against her body like it is a top-secret document. She shakes wild curly hair out of her face and reminds the group that she has the map the park ranger handed us on entry to the state park. She shouts this with an air of importance as though being in possession of a map will elevate her standing among her older cousins.

A map is a novelty to a 5-year-old; built-in dashboard GPS navigation is not.

In-car navigation is still somewhat of a novelty to me; a map is not.

Ten of us cross the parking lot and regroup near trailheads.

She shakes the map loose from its folds and it billows like a parachute. She wrangles it under control, studies it intently, traces lines with her finger and yells, “Trail 7! Let’s take Trail 7!”

“Trail 7? What’s on Trail 7?” the group murmurs.

“Look at Trail 7, Grandma!” she demands.

“I can’t see Trail 7 because I can’t find my glasses,” I holler over the wind.

Isn’t that how all good navigators respond?

Lewis says to Clark, “Well, we’re lost again, and I can’t find my glasses!”

Clark says to Lewis, “Where did you last see them?”

Lewis snaps, “If I knew where I last saw them, I wouldn’t be looking for them!”

The tiny navigator points to the top of my head, indicating the location of my glasses, just as a strong gust of wind rips one side of the map from her two-handed grasp.

We jump and lunge and flail against the wind, and finally the cumbersome map is once again under our command. I begin studying the map, which is somewhat of a challenge as the dotted lines marking the trails are very faint. What’s more, I need to find our position in relation to the parking lot, but I am having trouble finding it.

“You do know you’re growing up in the digital age where everybody does everything on their phones, right?” I ask.

She squints her eyes and glares. It’s a menacing glare, even from a half-pint.

“I don’t have a phone,” she deadpans.

Good point.

The kid wants to use the map.

I point out that we are standing by the start of Trail 1. “I’ve been on Trail 1 before,” I say. “It’s wonderful.”

“But I want Trail 7.”

“Well, we’re nowhere close to Trail 7.”

Another eye squint.

“Trail 1 has a suspension bridge,” I say.

The glare softens.

“And it takes us through a deep canyon carved into enormous rocks.”

Her eyes widen.

I lean close to let her in on the best part. “And we might see a teeny tiny waterfall.”

She’s all in.

“Tell you what, next time we come we’ll do Trail 7. OK?”

She relents and relinquishes Trail 7. But not the map.


Tax refund is a two-edged sword

When the husband announced we were getting a sizable tax refund this year, I froze. It was one of those moments when you remember where you were and what you were wearing. (Middle of the kitchen, black workout pants, gray hoodie – same thing I’ve worn every day since the pandemic began.)

“That’s terrible,” I whispered, barely able to talk.

“I know,” he said, visibly shaken.

“It’s all right,” I said, “we still have each other.”

Refunds terrify us. Not only because it means we miscalculated and overpaid estimated quarterly taxes, but because anytime we get a windfall of any sort, it is always followed by another wind. Something along the lines of a tornado.

Our first rule of finance is that unexpected money means unexpected expenses. They’re coming. You know they’re coming; you just don’t know when they’re coming.

The first one hit – literally – the next week. Heavy rain turned to ice and coated all the needles on all the branches of a large white pine next to the house. Branches at the top cracked under the weight and took lower branches out with them, hurling themselves against the house then crashing to the ground. It sounded like a wrecking ball in slow-mo.

We surveyed the damage. Nearly one entire side of the tree was on the ground. Branches had dented siding, scraped brick, cracked a window frame and ripped the electrical box for the AC off the house.

“It could have been worse,” I said, which is our second rule of finance right after “unexpected money means unexpected expenses.”

The next day we bought new windshield wipers for the car. The nice man who put them on said he heard a little sing-song noise from the engine that we might want to have looked at. We took it to our mechanic who called within the hour. He said it was bad news and that we needed to take it to the dealership. “It’s gonna cost big time,” he said. “Hope you guys got a tax refund.”

That night I said, “Well, the house has spoken, the homeowners claim has been filed, the car is at a spa at the dealership enjoying two grand in the sun, but at least the appliances are all working.”

“How could you say such a thing?” the husband snapped. “You think appliances don’t have ears?”

The refrigerator let out a wicked laugh, followed by a clunk, dropping the last ice cubes we would ever see. For five days we hit the on/off switch to the ice maker and tripped the little bar. Then we bought a bag of ice from the grocery. Now, since I routinely forget to buy ice at the store, we make our own ice cubes in two blue plastic trays. We’ve gone retro.

I have a dental appointment this week. Last year, the dentist replaced two old fillings with crowns and has his eye on a third. If we go for broke on another crown, I will insist on being called “Her Majesty.” It may not stop the outflow of money, but I’ll enjoy a new title.