A road through the past

I’m in favor of modern, paved roads, when it doesn’t cost you an arm and a leg to drive on them (more on that later). Nine times out of 10 times, modern roads are helpful. But if you’re the fool who carries historical maps inside your head, modern roads can befuddle you occasionally.

On our summer vacation, we took a day to visit Gettysburg. This was a risky move, as the battlefield was an enticing attraction to only two members of our five-person family. I have always been a reader of American History. Big Brother has an interest in history as well. He took an 8th grade Civil War class last spring and was eager to see the field.

For the others, interest in Gettysburg was less acute. My wife likes to visit famous places, but once somebody tells her who won, she feels like she’s got all the info about the battle she needs. Buster believes when you go someplace with a cannon on every hill, you should be allowed to blow up something. Big Man just wants a hotel with a pool.

Sorry, Buster. All those guns are just for looking at.

It was a hot, humid day, but everyone bore it well. My wife was a trooper, driving us around and stopping wherever I asked so we could examine the monuments and walk the ground. I used the map in my head to answer Big Brother’s questions.

By the time we got to Little Round Top, it was the heat of the afternoon. We all climbed to the apex and took in the view. I wandered to the left, trying to locate the end of the Union battle line. Big Brother followed, and suddenly we were on a sacred quest to find the monument to the 20th Maine.

The beaten path ended, and we found ourselves exploring through underbrush. Now that the hunt had begun, the younger boys took up the chase, rushing downhill through the weeds to keep up. My wife followed out of concern for her wayward boys, issuing a constant bugle call of poison ivy warnings.

In the overgrowth, we discover the monument to the regiment in line next to the 20th. We must be close. Big Brother forged ahead, convinced he would soon be standing upon that hallowed spot.

He stopped short, clearly befuddled. When I came up to him, I understood why. He stood at a clearing with a paved road running through. We followed the road to an intersection, wondering how we could have missed the marker.

At the intersection we noticed a park ranger addressing a small group across the intersecting road. Then we knew our mistake. The modern roads had messed up the maps in our heads. The monument was just where it should have been, and just where we might have looked, had the Union line been bisected by asphalt in 1863.

No matter. We found our Holy Grail. A 13-year-old solidified his connection to the past. Even his tired and sweaty little brothers seemed satisfied. Their dad was happy about many things at that moment.

We didn’t see everything, but we couldn’t leave without finding this.

Mom had gone to get the car. When we felt the air conditioning inside, she became Gettysburg’s greatest hero.

EPILOGUE

A month later I got the Pay-by-Plate toll in the mail from the Pennsylvania Turnpike.  The toll for driving from the Ohio border to the Gettysburg exit, one way, was $67. Paved roads are getting to be trouble.

Give up your lost cause, Daddy

Pickett’s Charge was the crescendo of Gettysburg, the high water mark of the Confederacy. Thousands of men charged toward a strongly defended line. They reached that line and punctured it. At that moment, they must have felt the euphoria of hard-fought victory.

Then, their charge ran out of steam. They were thrown back, battered and bruised. It was the beginning of the end for them.

Why do I mention Pickett’s Charge in a parenting blog?

Because at 1 a.m. this morning, as I was struggling to get the baby to sleep, I thought about all the men in history who fought hard and thought they had won, only to be cast backward into defeat. It isn’t that I wish Pickett’s Charge had succeeded; I’m very satisfied that it failed. Yet, as this fidgety baby turned my hard-won victory to defeat, I felt the weary pain of having the tables turn against me at the crucial moment.

The High Water Mark at Gettysburg. The monument to Daddy’s High Water Mark is the bruise he got while walking, half asleep, into the bathroom door frame on his way to the shower in the morning. (Photo: National Park Service)

At 11:30 p.m. the baby started crying. I took him downstairs and poured him three fingers of milk. He finished about two fingers worth before he waved off the bottle with his spastic little hands.

For an hour, I rocked him, swayed with him, and bounced him on my knee. He didn’t cry, but he didn’t close his eyes either. He just sat there looking cute, and awake. Occasionally, he would punk me by fitting a tall yawn in between his moments of contemplative staring at the ceiling.

Finally, his eyes got droopy. I took him upstairs and put him into his cradle. This perked him right up again. To keep things moving in the right direction, I gave him my pinky finger to suckle. He settled down.

For long, uncomfortable minutes, I hunched over him, rocking his cradle and feeding him my finger. It was working. As he drifted further into sleep, I eased my finger loose from his gums. In another instant, I would be free. Victory and a soft pillow would be mine!

Then the tables turned. We were doomed by the Moro Reflex.

The Moro Reflex is that instinct that makes babies fling their arms up over their heads at moments critical to their parents’ escapes. I have noticed two variations of the Moro Reflex. The Little Moro Reflex is the one where the baby throws his arms up in one fluid motion. I call this the Praise the Lord Reflex. The baby comes out of R.E.M. long enough to ask his dreams, “Can I get a witness?” then slips right back into deep slumber.

The Big Moro Reflex is the one where the baby violently jerks himself awake throwing his arms up and casting them all about for some vine or lemur tail to catch hold of. His eyes jolt open, and in them you can hear him think, “Holy shit, I’m falling out of the monkey tree!” The baby is now irrevocably awake.

At 1 a.m. this morning, my baby boy was stricken with the Big Moro Reflex. It was my high water mark.

An action shot of the Moro Reflex. This is only a dramatization; no parents were exhausted during the taking of this picture.

I jammed my pinky back into his mouth, but it was too late. My victory was slipping away from me, and I knew it. Everything was trending in the wrong direction, right up to the point when the boy signaled my defeat with his battle cry.

This cry woke my wife. She saw that I was a shell of the proud soldier I had once been. I was summarily relieved of duty. Maybe I had earned a rest, but I had earned no victory. Just like the survivors of Pickett’s Charge.