Passport, Part III

Normally on ferry rides with Short Stack I get to enjoy a bubbly and entertaining conversation with him. Like most his age, he converses almost entirely in the form of questions and we have a great time looking for new things and then discussing them. This trip however, I was going to be second banana to the Shuttle. We’ve watched videos of various launches roughly forty-three zillion times and in these videos, most of the camera angles are very, very tight. Many of the actual movie feeds come from cameras bolted to the shuttle, the external fuel tank or the solid fuel boosters themselves. Because of this and because my detail driven son is a stickler for.. well… detail, he insists on reliving the experience as closely as possible with his own Shuttle. What this means is that he holds the toy up to his face, keeping his eye so close to its surface that it would be within reaching distance of an aphid. His mother and I have tried to dissuade him from needlessly endangering himself this way, but you might as well try to convince a horse to lay off the clover. It just ‘aint going to happen. So, for the last few months, Short Stack has essentially gone about the house with a Space Shuttle for a face, making eye contact with him all but impossible. As I sat and watched him launch STS-2452, I realized that what I hadn’t brought along with me today was daddy entertainment. No magazines, no laptop, no book. Luckily conversational salvation came in the form of Doug.

Doug is a new friend who has recently moved back to Maine and is in the process of getting his various ducks in their assigned rows. Today, he was headed to the Department of Motor Vehicles to get his license changed and the two of us enjoyed chatting away about home construction, the weather and especially the entertainment value of watching small children play when they are totally absorbed in what they’re doing. The red headed object lesson across the table from us obliged by resting the point of the orange fuel tank on the tip of his nose and, with a aspirated “FWOOOOSHHHHH!” separated the Shuttle from its back as it continued to his own personal orbit.

“He’s pretty obsessed, isn’t he?” Doug smiled at my boy as Short Stack hummed audibly while flying his Orbiter over his head for a few seconds, then back to the table for landing and a quick reassembly of the component parts as it was prepared for it’s next mission, STS-2453.

“Oh, you have no idea. This is all we see or hear. It’s going to be great taking him to the Kennedy Space Center, but it sometimes feels like I’m chumming the water, you know? Like he doesn’t get enough of rockets already.”

I then explained to him that every morning, Short Stack got a dose of NASA with his dose of medicine.

For the first three winters of my son’s life, things were pretty horrible. He’d get sick with cold after cold. He had croup, which made his cough sound like he had swallowed a harbor seal whole. He was always run down and tired. He’s a real trooper when he feels sick and never lets it dull his enthusiasm for living but to watch him go through it was simply awful. We were first time parents then and were wary of becoming “those” parents who treated their children like precious snowflakes, freaking out when they all but sneezed by dousing the house in antibacterial soap and Clorox wipes. Short Stack is a tough little customer and we did what we could. Besides, this was normal, right? He’s a kid. Kids get sick, right?

Wrong. Not like this.

It took us two years longer than it should have but a late night trip to the emergency room and some seriously frayed nerves finally got us to a specialist and an answer, He has asthma. One of the reasons if faked us out for so long was that it isn’t the kind of asthma that you’re used to encountering. He doesn’t get winded easily. He can play all day and laugh his little belly sore with joy and never show the slighted sign of distress. It’s just not that SORT of asthma. There are, as it turns out, a variety of asthmas out there and his is subtler than the wheezing, inhaler needing type. His creeps up on him and will slowly make his life miserable until it blossoms into full blown pneumonia, which he’s had three times now in the distance of his short time spent on this planet. The fix was long in coming but it has thankfully, arrived.

The medicine he takes is taken in with the aide of a device called a nebulizer. All it is essentially is a vaporizer that he claps in his mouth and breathes in until the vapor stops. All in all, it takes roughly six minutes to suck it all down and as some of you might know from personal experience, six adult minutes translates into roughly four and a half hours in three year old minutes. A distraction, if not entirely necessary, does at least keep things from getting needlessly antagonistic in the father/son relations category. Essentially, it’s better for all parties involved. I plunk my computer down at the table, set up the nebulizer and then find something for him to watch. In the beginning of this ritual, it was cartoons that he wanted. Now, it’s the “orange tank” video, and nothing else will do.

The video actually has a lot more to it than just watching the Shuttle’s orange external fuel tank for ten minutes, though honestly, I think he’d be fine with that too. It’s actually a very well done production from off the NASA web site highlighting the STS-129 launch of Endeavor that took place a little while ago. The music is good, the editing is well done and it follows the launch from the rollout of the massive Vehicle Assembly Building all the way through liftoff and the eventual separation of the orange external tank in upper orbit. My son lives for this video and it always gets him running over when it comes time to sit down and beat back his asthma with the miracle of modern chemistry. It’s sort of Merry Poppins for the twenty-first century.

“Just a short NASA video, makes the medicine go down…”

The end result is that my son can function normally for a kid his age and also, he can tell you in detail what the launch sequence is for the Shuttle program, and will until you beg and plead with him to talk to you about something else… which isn’t so normal. All in all, I call it a worthwhile trade. I do rather wish we could watch some cartoons sometimes, though.

As the boat pulled into the dock, I picked up our coats and hats and to mild protests, the little wooden space shuttle as well.

“I was going to play Space Shuttle!” The miniature scowl on his little round face looked more comical than menacing but I knew it was the look of displeasure with my actions. He’s a cautious kid and I know how to play that.

“Buddy, we’re about to walk off the boat on the plank. You wouldn’t want to drop your Shuttle in the water, would you?” That made him stop. Besides being neck deep in the freezing temperatures of winter, the water is also way, way down there as you cross the gangplank. The handrails are good and sturdy, but anything dropped while you walk across it is pretty much doomed to the frigid waters below. He thought about this and came back at me with the best that any three year old has to offer:

“Why?”

“Well…” I had to think for a sec. There were a lot of answers to ‘why?’ but only a few right ones. He’s a smart kid and does not cotton to the one word answer, ‘because.’ I’d need to do better than that. “Because if it did drop, there would be no way for me or anyone else to get it. It would float under the dock and you wouldn’t have it anymore.”

That did it. The scowl vanished and the protest ended. We said good-bye to Doug and I wished him well in his battle with the DMV: The Place Where Things Never Go Well.

I had my son, his birth certificate and a check. Our first appointment was a quick stop to get some official pictures of him and then it was off to the Post Office to fill out paper work. The only error being that “quick” and “three year old” never go hand in hand unless you are dealing with a small mountain of chocolate. After paying the seven dollar fee at our local AAA office, I watched in pained fatherhood-ness as the photographer tried time and time again to get a good shot of my son. Over the last sever paranoia laced years, the US has implemented strict guidelines on how passport photos must be aligned and set. Getting a small child to adhere to these rules, even for a tenth of a second is kind of like trying to push water up hill. You can do it, but you’re going to loose your mind in the process. In the end, the sixth try was the winner and the frazzled cameraman happily gave it his resounding stamp of, “Meh, close enough!”

With the hard won pictures in hand, we moved on to the Post Office, place of Passport submittal. I vaguely remember doing this as a child, back in my hometown on some sunny day in a forgotten season. As a kid, the Post Office only meant two things: Boredom and wanted posters. As my Mother stood in a lone that would have made the ones at Disney World look tame in comparison, I would inevitably drift off to look around. Besides the slow moving caterpillar of humanity that zigzagged though the velvet rope obstacle course which I was not allowed to play with, there was little else to do other than study the faces on the FBI’s most wanted criminals which were always posted prominently near the door. Could one of these individuals be coming through town right now? Should I look around at the others here even now? The topic would tantalize my mind for whole seconds until I’d wander away again to have my eighth drink form the water bubbler and start playing with the velvet ropes that made up the customer corral until garnering “the look” from Mom.

Getting my passport was a different experience. We walked right by the twisting line and got to go into a previously unseen office. There was a desk, a smiling clerk and no wanted posters or ropes to amuse my self with. That, and the fact that the attention was somewhat on me, made its mark on my memory. I though about that long forgotten experience as I walked into our local post office with my son hoisted high on my shoulders and proceeded to the one window set aside for such transactions. Apparently, an entire office was no longer needed.

“Sorry. We can’t use this birth certificate.” As the clerk handed it back to me, I was more than a little confused. The paper work had specified that what they needed was an official certificate with a raised stamp, which this one was and had. What it didn’t apparently specify was what KIND of official certificate was needed. Silly me.

“Ok…. Why not? What do I need?”
“This is from the hospital. It’s not official. You need to get one from the city where he was born.” That was unexpected.
Luckily, we live in the city where our son was born so I wouldn’t have to send away for it. In fact, City Hall wasn’t that far away at all, so other than having to deal with yet another layer of beaurocracy, the situation wasn’t so bad.
“Ok,” I said with a pleasant grin which I hoped gave the feeling that I was not boggling at the foolishness of having to get another official birth certificate while I held a different one in my hand, just as official but not official in the right ways, apparently. “I’ll be back in a few minutes with the right birth certificate.”

As I gathered up what I had, the clerk hit me again. “And don’t’ forget to bring the child’s mother with you too. She needs to be here.” That stopped me.
“Pardon?”
“Both parents need to be present when a child pass port application is submitted. You both need to sign the form here and with me as a witness. You’ll also need to make sure you bring correct identification before you are allowed to sign.”
After a brief, “are you kidding me” pause, I just had to ask. “So… What would be considered proper identification for us to bring?” I waited and was rewarded with the reply I most suspected.

“A passport would be fine.”

For reasons unknown, all I could envision was a snake devouring itself. Around and around we go!

In the end, Short Stack enjoyed his time with me as we skipped along though the various public buildings in search of the correct documentation for his very own little blue book with the eagle on the cover. I’m reasonably sure he has only a vestigial grasp of why we were going through all the trouble, but like most kids, he’s used to going along for the ride while having little knowledge of the final destination. Come to think of it, that’s a fairly accurate summary of much of the time one spends from age zero to eighteen. Some even manage to draw it out longer.

As we finally stepped off the ferry and back onto our island home, we happened to bump into Doug again in the small herd of passengers that disgorged from the boat. In our brief reunion as we walked up the hill and away from the landing, I made a discovery that made me feel a little better. He too had been thwarted by the bureaucracy and was returning home empty handed. At least we weren’t alone.

Short Stack, at least wasn’t empty handed. He clung lovingly the bag containing his Space Shuttle. Within ten seconds of waking back through our front door he was already launching mission STS-2454 in the living room. If only our civil servants were so dedicated in their duty.

Passport, Part Two

Being anything but shy, I completed my deliveries with a grin and a little light conversation (all part of the service). I don’t recall if I made any tips, but I’m willing to bet that I made some good will, which is saying something when you consider that easily a quarter of the ordered drink was likely sloshing around the wrong side of their glass and collecting at the bottom of my little serving tray. Though I seriously doubt that my own son will have the opportunity to reenact my mini-bar delivery service, the point is this: He would if he could.

If Short Stack thinks that there is a modicum of a hint of a possibility that some random person might like to know what he’s thinking about, rest assured, he’ll let them in on it. It would take little coaching to get him to pin wings on his shirt and set forth to take stock of what was going on with each and every person on that flight. This links into reason number two as to why I want and secure a passport for my chatty little munchkin.

The darker side to being an open and talkative kid is that you inevitably give your parents nightmares about someone walking off with you. I don’t know exactly how many times my own folks and I had “The Talk” about being careful and not too trusting of strangers, but it wouldn’t surprise me to find out if it had been weekly.

Mom: “What ever you do, don’t go anywhere with someone you don’t know.”
Me: “Yah. I know.”
“Dad” “REALLY! It’s not safe! I know you like to make friends, but you have to be careful!”
Me: “Ok. I will. I promise.”
Mom: “Good, it’s just that you’re so friendly and… well… we want to keep you safe.”
Random Stranger: “Oh! You must be Matt’s parents!”

You can see why I caused them fits. Now it’s my turn to get to see it from the other side and I’ll tell ya, nightmares a-plenty.

So, I wanted my son to have some I.D. and being in character with my normal modus operandi, I had pushed things to the edge in terms of timing. The turn around time to get your passport is four to six weeks. Out trip would be in almost exactly four. I must like living like this, because it’s how I seem to do things the vast majority of the time. Pressure is my friend, if not at least my excuse to have another cocktail.

“Ok Buddy. We’re going to town this morning so I need your help with getting ready, OK?”

My statement of encouragement might sound benign enough but there was some serious pleading involved in a sort of “as read” kind of way. Short Stack is not the most responsive person in the world when it comes to hurrying. As with most of us with active imaginations, what’s going on inside the head is often far more engaging that what’s happening outside. Unobserved, time tends to slip away like water down a storm drain. Add to this mix the fact that we live on an island where the ferry waits for no one, and the race out the door can get down right exciting. Luckily, the landing is down hill. Come to think of it, if it wasn’t, I think I’d have bigger problems.

As my son sat at the breakfast table ignoring his waffle in favor of pretending his hand was the Apollo Lunar Lander, I busied myself with gathering necessary documents needed to prove that he was whom I purported him to be so we could get his own little blue book with the eagle on it. We had fifteen minutes until boat time. Plenty! As I dug through the fire proof safe where we keep the really important documents, I started to sweat.

“Honey…” I tried to keep the panic from my voice. “Where’s his birth certificate?”
“It’s in the safe. Right? Isn’t it?”

No, no it wasn’t. This was bad.

Twelve minutes to boat time.

My wife and I have many strengths. She can cook sumptuous meals for any number of guests. I can wield just about any kind of construction tool and do a pretty good job with it. She can pilot huge ocean going boats. I can quote Monty Python ad nauseum until your ears bleed. What we are bad at, in fact utterly fail at, is paperwork. We both hate it, avoid it and try not to think about it. So, when we have something important that needs to be filed and kept, there is just one place for it: The safe. When it’s not there, God only knows where it might have gone.

*Insert comical running about and tearing the house apart routine here*

As the two adults ripped though piles of ancient and semi-discarded documents which lived in jaunty piles throughout the house, Short Stack did a perfect landing in the Sea of Tranquility, completely missing the luke warm waffle, forgotten on his plate and utterly ignorant of the mad rush going on around him, either of which might have jeopardized his mission and the crew entrusted to his care. President Kennedy would have been proud.

Eight minutes to boat time.

I stood in blank resignation, rooted to the spot in the basement where I officially ran out of ideas where it could be. Doom. Ah, the peppery smell of doom.

“Found it!” The triumphant cry from my wife sent me bolting up the stairs, taking three at a time.
“Where!?”
“Never mind that! Get Short Stack ready!”

She was right of course. I could let her take care of her end. My job was to pour a three year old into a coat, shoes, hat and mittens, all in less that a minute. It’s at times like this that it’s simply easier to handle a child like they are a large doll. Giving them instructions will only slow everything down. With a scoop under the arms, my son was swept off his chair, over his little sister dutifully getting into the box of cheerios in the middle of the kitchen floor and right to the front door. He’s used to this sort of treatment by now and puts up little resistance. Mostly he was ticked that I interrupted Neil Armstrong’s historic moonwalk.

Six minutes to boat time.

As my wife wrestled the baby album that held the now found birth certificate, I wrestled winter gear onto Short Stack.

“Screw it! Take the whole page!” The album had apparently steadfastly refused to release the document and she had officially had it. With a pop, my wife simply yanked out the offending leaf from the book, pictures and all. I dove into my own boots and coat, grabbed my bag, my son, the birth certificate and fled the house.

Four minutes.

Letting Short Stack walk under his own power was right out if we were to have any shot at all of making the ferry and since my wife was less than enthused at the idea of me ploinking him onto my shoulders and then running down the sand strewn street to the dock, she kindly drove us down at, if not break neck speed then at least at sprang neck. We made it on with at least two minutes to spare. We weren’t even the last ones. That’s all I ask. I just don’t want to be last.

The opera that is leaving the house, being over, the two of us settled into a seat and watched out island shrink away as we cruised across the bay.

“Daddy, did you bring…”

With a flourish and before he could finish, I reached into my satchel and produced the most important piece of our outing. His wooden Space Shuttle.

Within seconds, he was someplace else and in charge of yet another space launch. Yes, this would all be worth it.

Passports

Yesterday, we headed into town with a mission. On the surface, it looked to be a simple enough one, if slightly bureaucratic. The ultimate goal was to get a passport for Short Stack. I’m fully aware that air travel within the United States does not require this and that additionally, due to his age, very few people would even be looking for this, but I wanted to try and get this done for a few reasons, both emotional and paranoid.

The personal aspect of this endeavor was simply out of my own inevitable nostalgia. As a young child, I was blessed with parents who not only had the means to take their only son on trips interesting and far ranging, but also the inclination and trust to do so. At the age of four, I was introduced to the concept of stepping into an aluminum tube and strapping in, ready to be hurled through the air at mind numbing speeds. It was a long trip as well, starting in Boston, Massachusetts and eventually ending up in Honolulu, Hawaii. At this point, I’m not entirely sure if I remember the flight or not. The story of it has been retold and retold so many times by family and my self that the validity of my mental picture cannot be vouched for any more. The passing of time and the reality that I would later spend a great deal of time on other flights has blended the images in my mind until resembling a suffusion of smiling stewardesses, crisp uniforms, the ever present hiss of the engines and the inexorable draw of the rear galley.
I have never been a shy individual and with the shamelessness and ignorance of youth, I made for an extremely outgoing child. Raised to be respectful toward adults and always interested in what ever was going on around me, I had a tendency to make friends my parent’s age or older where ever I went. My Mother and Father quickly became used to having random strangers walk up to them and say, “Oh, you must be Matthew’s parents”

It was a different age then, as it always is, and for better or worse, people didn’t worry so much about having their children being snatched away at an unobserved moment or making eye contact with people unknown. Kids could venture farther a field and make their own way. I always tended to seek out adults rather than kids my own age. The logic was simple. When you are a kid, you don’t need to complete with an adult. There’s no vying for who’s the alpha in the relationship and who will be relegated to tagging along. You didn’t need to worry about appearing uncool or unknowledgeable simply because that’s not the way the power flowed and if you could side step all this social foolishness, you could simply get right into whatever subject you were interested in.

For whatever reason, I remember a lot of adults I interacted with finding this to be both amusing and endearing. What it got me was someone to talk with whom I never met before and whom I probably never would again plus the chance to see and do a lot of really neat stuff that the shyer or more kid-centric of my peer group could only imagine. It also kept me from getting too bored.
On the series of flights, first taking my family and me across the country and then again, over the ocean to a place I’d never dreamed of before, I spent much of my time chatting away with the ladies (and they were almost universally ladies, back then) who were in charge of the passengers care and feeding. Since they were the only visible adults who were actually doing anything, it was an easy choice who to hang out with. They also all looked pretty to me. Like I said. Easy.

After the little, plastic novelty wings were pinned to my sweater, I did what I always did. I asked if I could help. It only made sense, right? I was a steward now. I even had the wings to prove it. Somewhere along the flight, some flight attendant decided to let me at it and really start to help. Being only about three feet tall, there wasn’t much I could actually accomplish but there was one job they were probably happy to pass off on the new help.

Drinks orders.

I was shown how to tell when a passenger had pressed their call button and given the assignment of going to find out what the person in seat 23B wanted. Once the order was given to me by the startled occupant, who was no doubt expecting someone a bit taller and leggier, I would scurry back to the galley and report to the smiling ladies what was needed. Once mixed, they’d set it on a tray and as carefully as a four year old could, I’d deliver it back to the bemusement of everyone who noticed.

Back then, it was cute and funny. Now, someone would be calling child services and the airline would fire anyone within a fifty mile radius.

Like I said, it was a different time.

*more later…

Thirty Days ’till Launch

I’m going to do something a little different here for a while. Most of my posts are one-off thoughts or memories and often simply funny stuff or cute stories about the kids. In the past, I’d write two to three stories a week but over the last year, I’ve been lucky to get more than a couple a month out.

I’ve been feeling like It’s time to kick the writing into high gear if I’m ever going to do this thing properly. I just needed a good foundation to build on. I think I’ve found it. In thirty days, my son and I are heading off on our first “father/son” trip, all the way to Florida to watch one of the last Space Shuttle launches. It’s going to be a momentous thing for both of us and I can’t wait for it. I’m pretty sure he can’t either. What I’m hoping to do is write like hell about this, my own memories that the trip kicks off and the reflections on this last year of being a stay at home dad. With some luck and determination, I just might have enough material at the end of thirty days to wrap it together and call it a book. We shall see.

If not… well… I will be a great journal for rereading some day.

The posts might get a little long winded since I’ll essentially be going “on and on” and editing on the fly, but please bear with me. I’ll do my best to keep it interesting and relevant. As always, feel free to comment and I’ll try and reply in a semi-coherent way. These posts should be a lot longer and come a lot faster. At least, that’s what I hope. Let’s try it out and see what happens.

-TP

Looking Up.

Under Short Stack’s bed sit his large collection of earth moving equipment, gathering dust. Next to the forgotten dump trucks, excavators and front loaders are his personal, private sea going fleet. A car carrying ferry, two landing craft made especially for him in my workshop, and a small selection of tugs, barges and whatnot, carefully painted and ready for duty. If they were not made of wood, they would be rusting at their moorings.

I blame They Might Be Giants.

These toys that have kept him happy for hours on end for most of his imagination filled life have been swept aside for a new, all consuming passion.

Space.

The passion of a four year old.

It all started with the arrival of a gift from my blood brother, The Doctor. An educational DVD by the singing duo of John and John that is punchy, fun, well paced, highly factual and was more than an instant hit with our little resident red head. It was all he ever wanted to watch and he would sing the songs with glee. Some were better than others but one came out as the clear winner. The one about the Solar System.

He’d sing about it, ask questions about it, draw pictures of it and then sing about it all over again. For a treat, Action Girl and I took him to a planetarium a while back and I think that might have cemented it.

We didn’t do it on purpose, I swear!

The notion of space in general has totally overridden all his other interests now and no boat or bulldozer has the gravitational pull of a gas giant or the light of a solar flair. They just can’t compete.

At this very moment, my wife is upstairs with him, reading bedtime stories to him before lights out. He gets to pick the book and her words, drifting down the stairs, are as predictable as they could be.

“The Earth is ninety-three million miles away from the sun and completes a rotation on its axis in just one day. Mercury, on the other hand, rotates much, much slower and…”

Our little island library has a good set of kid’s books on the planets, the sun and other celestial bodies and we’ve been systematically going through the collection over the last few months. We’ve done the books on Mercury, Venus, the Sun, Stars and Jupiter. The biggest issue I have is convincing him that we shouldn’t take the whole lot of them out at once. It’s a tough sell.

I don’t know how many times Action Girl and I have read these little space-fact books to him but I’m willing to bet he knows the text by heart at this point. I’m also willing to bet that we could “read” them to him with our eyes closed. Hey, maybe he should be reading them to us!

Then there are the rockets. Ahhhh, rockets.

Belching flames, roaring noise and awaaaaaay they go! What’s not to love?

What little kid wouldn’t get cranked watching a video of that? The object of his purest enthusiasm is for the soon to be retire Space Shuttle. For Christmas this year, “Santa” got him a little, wooden Space Shuttle that came with two detachable rocket boosters and it was far and away the biggest hit of the day and now, though only a few months old, bears the scars of high action missions throughout the house. His only objection was that it was missing the big, orange external fuel tank. For whatever reason, the manufacturers had left it out, which bugged him to no end.

“But daddy, why didn’t Santa make the orange tank? Doesn’t he know?”

“Ummm. I guess he doesn’t Short Stack. Maybe the elves don’t know about the tank. What do you think?” A long pause as he considered this brought him to an unavoidable conclusion.

“I don’t think Santa knows as much about rockets as I do.”

This statement wasn’t said with the smug satisfaction you’d expect to hear from an adult, but rather with a pained, almost regretful edge to it. Santa was missing out. How sad.

Then, the buoyant solution that brought his smile back in a flash. “Maybe I could tell him about them!”

“I bet you could, Buddy.”

To remedy this egregious oversight on St. Nick’s part, he rummaged around in his play kitchen set and came out with a wooden carrot, which made a reasonable, if not vegetable substitute. The Space Shuttle made regular launches from our living room floor, carrot and all, for about a week before I couldn’t stand it any more. One afternoon when I could safely make a racket with a variety of power tools without waking any nappers or be remiss in my munchkin watching, I pounded down stairs with the mission of making a better fit for his space exploration vehicle. A few well placed screws and magnets, and his ship was complete and correct, thus making two detail nerds very happy indeed.

The solid rocket boosters aren’t correct, but it’s what it came with and honestly, he doesn’t seem to mind, so I’m letting this one go. For now, anyway.

Short Stack has always been interested in getting thing just right, and he wants to know everything he can. I’ve been quizzed on the details of the Apollo landings. I’ve had to scrape my personal memory banks in an effort to dredge up information on the Mercury missions. I’ve explained to the best of my ability how the Shuttle works and the work that is does, and Short Stack, he just wants more.

And more.

And more.

In the past, when the questions finally wore me down, I’d come back at him with a correct but highly detailed answer in the best science speak I could muster. Normally, he’d just stare at me for a few seconds with a look that said, “ I know that what you said answered my question, but I didn’t understand it” and then go wander off to ponder. With space, that strategy isn’t working. When I try my old method, he just stops, thinks about it… and then ask me to clarify.

Possibly five or six times.

I try not to start crying.

It’s been since some time back in November that space exploration took over our son and it shows no hint of releasing. His room, once a haven for heavy equipment and books about bunnies is now bent in devotion of the physical heavens. A picture of a rocket, painted by his own hand, hangs on a wall and just last week, a full set of three dimensional planets took their place, hung in order and radiating away from a suspended tennis ball playing the roll of “The Sun.” The books on the floor are almost universally devoted to objects in the sky.

He’s obsessed. He’s also deeply appreciative for what ever you can tell him about it. Anything. Just get it right.

That brings me to my master plan.

The Space Shuttle fleet is due to be retired permanently at the end of this year and since the latest budget proposal has come out, it looks like the end of NASA powered, manned space travel for a long, long time. Like it or hate it, it is most defiantly the end of an era.

Short Stack’s birthday is just around the corner and with my deeply indulgent wife’s nod; I have something special in mind. Tonight, this very night, the Space Shuttle Endeavor is to take off on what will be the last nighttime shuttle launch. I would love him to see that and considered flying to Florida with him so he could watch, but it’s scheduled for lift off just after Four in the morning. The prospect of getting him up at that hour is to horrible to consider. Waking a four year old at two am for a four AM launch? Do I look THAT nuts?

So, I’m shooting for second best.

Tentatively scheduled for the Eighteenth of March, the Shuttle Discovery will be blasting off at around One in the afternoon. That, Short Stack can swing and so, that’s what I’m planning. I’m just waiting for the launch time to firm up so I can buy the airline tickets.

I haven’t told him yet because I don’t want to disappoint if it doesn’t work out for what ever reason. Even once the two of us go, I’ll keep mum about the launch, lest it get scrubbed. I’ll build in a few extra days and see what happens. He’ll be bonkers about visiting the Kennedy Space Center and inspect each and every display with a multitude of questions, I’m sure.

He’ll want to KNOW.
I’ll try not to break down, begging for help after a few days of this.

It’s an ambitious move on my part. I’ll be solo with one of my children, far from home and without a net. He’s a great kid and I trust him to do well. Honestly, I wouldn’t even consider this adventure if that weren’t true. Still, you just never know how these things will play out until they do.

In the end, his contagious excitement is enough to make me want to do this. For him, it’s about the love of the thing. It’s what fills his dreams at night and powers his play all day long. It’s worth the risk. And someday, he’ll be able to tell his children or grand children, “You know, I saw the Space Shuttle launch when I was just a kid. My dad took me there to see it.”

With some luck, they’ll be interested to hear more.

With some real luck, they might even put down their toy trucks and boats and be impressed.

Wish me luck.

I’m nuts, aren’t I?

For His Eighteenth Birthday – 5/16/05

Monday Poem, A Year and a Day

For His Eighteenth Birthday – 5/16/05

The barrel is warmed by my hand’s reverent grip,
rounded edges looking improbably soft.
Its walnut stock, marred here and there,
each scratch a story I can never know.

This is my Grandfather’s gun.
A long ago present from a father to his son.

A harsh gift, some would say, viewed through the lens of today’s world.
Yet a tender and well reasoned one for so long ago.

The hours it has spent hanging over his young shoulder.
The woodland glades it has crossed, reflecting the autumn sun.
The ducks and pheasants that have fallen to it,
and the dinners and sandwiches they later became.

I am told it is a good gun. A collector’s piece, now.
I am told of its value, but I know its real worth and I am rich to have it.

This is not my gun.

I am but its steward.

It will be kept clean and dry,
oiled and shining,
just as he kept it.

This is my Grandfather’s gun,
and always shall be.

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