Each weekday morning since getting back to Chicago, I drive out to the distant suburbs for my summer internship. The drive has been a high speed plunge back into the realities of the daily grind in the US. It's true that in Istanbul, I commuted quite a ways to go to work, but as international school teachers we were pampered- picked up and dropped off in a "servis" bus with an internet connection that functioned most of the time. It wasn't always pleasant, but I spent many of the hours on the bus in Istanbul reading and made my way through quite a few sizable tomes on those drives- The Brothers Karamazov, 1Q84, Luminaries, Shantaram, Istanbul... I looked forward to a long stretch of reading time when I could carve it out. As long as I'm stuck on a bus, I thought, I might as well make the best of it.
Now, I am again stuck in a long commute for hours and have the choice of either struggling through each day, mourning the wasted time or making the best of it. During the first few days of my mammoth drive, I flipped through radio channels, getting caught up on news and weather, revisiting my childhood with the Oldies station, and getting my fill of the newest pop hits. After a few days, though, I found myself impatiently hitting the scan button repeatedly, as if tapping out my frustration in morse code to the universe at large.
After driving for an hour, I find myself in a world of open skies, where the roads are flanked with cornfields so lush they look like the shaggiest of carpets, their leaves cutting a jagged line from the sky. The fields are a fresh green, inviting, and I imagine a giant toddler raking his fingers through the tufts of leaves. Herons wade in ponds off these roads, hawks perch on electric poles, and robin red breasts flutter from trees to the well-tended lawns and mailboxes greeting each driveway. Having always been a city kid, I have an innate aversion to the suburbs, but, discounting the soulless strip malls that also dot the landscape like miniature fortified kingdoms, I have to admit the landscape is beautiful.
For my internship, I meet my supervisor- a seasoned speech and language pathologist who has been a great resource- and we drive to visit clients in their homes. I am completely disoriented as we drive this way and that on small country roads and highways, making our way, like loose pinballs to each appointment. The service we provide is early intervention for speech and language needs in people's homes, and so the children we see are usually under the age of 3, all except a few, and the therapy takes the form of purposeful play.
Learning about the role of play in building speech and language and putting it into practice has been a fascinating process. I am still only just skimming the top of the mountain of knowledge in this area of development, but I enjoy this work and have so far loved working with this age group, where everything is still so fresh and new and where opportunities for learning lie in every interaction and situation. At times, while working with a child, I feel as if I can almost see the connections being formed in their brains as they put a puzzle together, match objects, or find the sounds and gestures to carry their message to the people around them. That is the magic of working with younger children.
At the end of the day, I get back into my car to face the 2-hour commute back into the city. Since realizing that the radio wouldn't cut it, I have been lining up my favorite podcasts to last me through the drive. I'm even thinking of getting a book on tape or a language program to build up the tiny bit of Turkish I learned while abroad. As I crawl closer to home, surrounded by cars and looking at the red snake of brake lights leading to Chicago, I get lost in stories, music, analysis of current events... reclaiming this lost time.