Houston, we have a problem…

There were some unforeseen issues with the date we were to leave. Initially, the launch was supposed to take place on March 18th at the height of the afternoon. It was going to be perfect for viewing with a young child. Then, like massive pieces of monstrously complex machinery are want to do, something went wrong on the orbiter. Nothing major. Nothing catastrophic, but just a big enough a problem to warrant rescheduling the “go” date for the beginning of the next month. No big deal, right?

Heh…

The first thing that crossed my mind was, “Oh, thank God I didn’t buy the airline tickets yet.” To say that things are a little strained in the airline industry these days is like mentioning that sticking a rosebush in your pants might be somewhat uncomfortable. With the hysteria that has infused every corner of the airline experience combined with the unadulterated fact that the vast majority of carriers are losing money hand over fist, despite the fact that they charge you for your luggage, your drinks, your food and even (I wish I were making this up) the pillows, then you can see why I suspected calling them up and begging for a date change on our tickets would meet with non-helpfulness on a wide and impressive scale. They might do it, but there would be a charge. My only question was if the penalty fee might be more than the price of the ticket. For this very reason, I had begged off on selecting our flight. That, and I’m cheap and hate forking over large sums of money for just about anything and tend to put it off until I can’t let it go any longer.

The second problem was that our departure date would now fall, not only on Easter Sunday, but also my daughter’s second birthday. Great.

In some ways, it’s hardly a big deal. Though my wife and I were raised Catholic, neither of us are practicing any more. To be fair, after eleven years of parochial school, I feel that I’ve practiced enough and am ready for prime time. As for the birthday, well, that stings a bit. The good news is that this is probably the last time I could ever get away with that. She is after all, very, very young and the concept of birthdays to her means only two things: “Pwesents” and “Cake!”

If it were up to Lulu Belle, every day would include pwesents and cake. For her, the fact that it falls on a particular day in the year means exactly, precisely, nothing. Therefore, we’d be having our festivities a day ahead. Problem solved! Plus, since the Easter Bunny doesn’t actually work for the Vatican, we figured that we could talk him into a Saturday delivery as well. All seemed to be working out just fine, even if it does sting a bit for me to miss her special day. I was already missing her and we hadn’t even left yet.

The last little entertainment that cropped up due to the date change was the launch time. Previously, it was going to take place in the sunny afternoon, and, as luck would have it, just before naptime! How perfect can you get? Too perfect, apparently.

When NASA, or anyone else for that matter, wants to launch a rocket, they don’t just pick the time arbitrarily. It needs to be very, very carefully worked out. The issue is that if you want to make a multi-million (or billion) dollar chunk of technology go up into orbit, any old orbit, then when you press the big, red launch button doesn’t really matter. (I’m assuming here that the “launch” button is red. If it isn’t, then it should be. That’s how I’d make them) There’s a lot of space out there and if the engine on the back of your rocket is big enough and you can get it to fly consistently up, then you’re pretty safe to hit it eventually.

It’s kind of hard to miss.

The trick is when you want it to go into just the right orbit. Like I said, space is really big and if you’re going to wind up in the correct bit of it to say, meet up with the International Space Station, then you’re going to need and plan things just right. The Earth, after all is moving and pretty damned fast at that. So is the ISS. It’s cooking along at 17,500 miles per hour (28,163 kph) and though it might look pretty big in the NASA release photos, it’s barely a speck on the horizon. And then you have to find the right horizon. After all, those lucky few whom are riding it get to see a new sunrise ever ninety two minutes! See how tricky this gets? This is also a perfect example of why I’m not a NASA scientist. I’m much more in the Alan Shepard school of thought, who put it this way to Mission Control after waiting in his capsule for over four hours to blast off and become the first American in Space:

“Why don’t you just fix your little problem and light this candle!”

God love you, Alan.

That might have been how things rolled in the early days, but is sure as heck isn’t how things roll now.

So, with the change in the date of the launch, so comes a change in the time of day for the Shuttle to make its launch window. We were now looking at a 6:22 AM launch. “Not bad” you might think. “I’ve seen worse things than getting up just before dawn.”

Ah, yes, but you’re forgetting something. That’s when the launch actually happens. We have tickets for the viewing and they have a non-negotiable, “arrive by” time. Because this is a highly regulated venue and since we were going to be seeing the launch with roughly sixty zillion other lucky ticket holders, we had to be at the Space Center early. How early?

Midnight.

Wait. Let me say that again. MIDNIGHT!
With a FOUR YEAR OLD!

But wait, there’s more. The hotel we were staying at. Yah, that’s an hour away.

So, I’d be pulling my son, a few hours after arriving in Orlando, out of his soft and comfy bed and packing him into the car to drive, park and then wait for six hours. This would be tough on me but I was afraid that it was going to be brutal on him. What I needed to figure out was how to stuff an Ace up my sleeve.

My horror image was of the two of us, standing out in the dark field that’s used for viewing with several hours to go and him melting down because, well… he’s a little kid, tired and without a safe and comfortable place to try and get some sweet, sweet sleep. I needed to bring my own home base. With only a few days to go before launch, I started looking around on Amazon.com and found my solution.

Rush delivery?
“Oh, yes! Please!”

Two days later, my brand new, super cheap, one-man tent arrived.

In its traveling sleeve, it looks almost identical to one of those collapsible fabric and fiberglass pole traveling chairs that you see everywhere. My sincere hope was that if I could get it in, and if I could find a place to set it up and if I wasn’t discovered by a disapproving security-type individual, then perhaps I might be able to avoid my vision of parental doom.

That’s a lot of “if’s”.

Here’s hoping.
Hey? Was I the guy bashing hope just a while ago? I take it back.

I hope! I hope! I hope!

Quasi-happily, I did find out (yet again through Facebook) that tents were sometimes allowed on the Causeway, but no one seemed to know if that would fly at the actual Space Center. It would be, after all, on manicured grounds filled with spectators and exhibits. Kind of like going to an outdoor symphony and setting up camp amongst the other attendees, but in my case, the orchestra would be igniting with over seven million tons of thrust. The Boston Pops might be good, but they aren’t that good.

In some weird way, I actually didn’t want to probe this too deeply. After all, If I couldn’t find a quick “no” to my tent idea, I could possibly beg ignorance and not purer my self. I try very hard not to lie, but there’s not reason I should make a Herculean effort to actually hang my self, right? No harm, no foul! Right?

When the tent arrived the day before we left, I set it up in the front yard to test it out. The consensus? It was cheap. Very, very cheap. In fact, it used something that I thought had died out years ago with innovations to tent technology. guy wires. Two, big segmented poles were used to give it its basic form, but it used actual tent stakes and wires to hold it out to its full length. Still, it was serviceable, relatively smuggable and I thought it would do in a pinch, provided that some poor soul didn’t do an unanticipated forward somersault in the predawn dark. Possibly me. I packed it into the bottom of my suitcase and made ready to head for adventure with my boy.

“Do you really think they’ll let you set it up?” My wife looked at me with a face that managed to appear both sincere and incredulous all at once. I have no idea how she does this.

“Well, I think so.”

“You think so? But you don’t know?” Her eyebrow arched and the arms crossed. Uh-oh.

Must… not… fidget… uncomfortably! At times like this, I have found that the best course of action is to blame others. Not the moral high ground, perhaps, but it seems to work more than it doesn’t. I’m willing to bet that I’m not the first male to use this method of redirecting a womanly gaze of scorn. That, and with its use, I would still be able to pass a polygraph test. “I can’t seem to get a straight answer about that.” I used my very best professorial tone in an effort to add credibility to my words. “Some people said that it would be okay at the Causeway, but I can’t find anything about the Space Center, either way.” I didn’t mention that I hadn’t looked super duper hard to find that information. Again, I wanted to be able to use the Idiot Defense if cornered later on.

“So, what’s your plan then?” This was a test, and I knew it. I’ve been around the block enough times to avoid this one.

My “plan” was the one that so many men had used before me. It’s been in use for millennia and it’s driven wives and girlfriends bonkers, probably since the beginning. I don’t know what they called it before the invention of American Football, but here and now, we have a name for it. It’s called punting. For anyone unfamiliar with this term, I’ll make it brief. Punting is when you kick the holy hell out of the ball and pray that things go your way. It is the ultimate non-plan.

If it were just me who was going, that would be fine with her. She’s traveled with me quite a lot and is actually very good at shooting from the hip when it comes to fluid situations. The difference here was that it wasn’t just me. I would have our very best son with me (actually, our only one, so it’s sort of de facto, but true none the less) and his care was the most important thing. I needed something better to say than, “I dunno. I’ll make it up as I go.”

“Oh, I suppose we could sleep in the car. That would be warm and safe.” To be honest here, I seriously doubted that this would work. I was pretty sure that we’d have to leave our vehicle and would not be allowed back out unless we were willing to abandon our admittance to the grounds. Wisely and weasely, I omitted that part and let her mull it over. I’m not proud of that, but what was the point of panicking her at this point in the game? She could probably see right though me, but if she did, she didn’t let on.

“Alright. Just take care of our boy.” Whether or not she bought it, I don’t know. What I do know is that she helped me pack up our provisions until the suitcase bulged to comical proportions. The next day was the day before our flight and we had birthday and Easter to attend to. With the last few hours rolling by at amazing speed, I started to get that sinking feeling I always do before a trip.

What was I forgetting? Was I forgetting something? I don’t think I’m forgetting anything. Am I?

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Miffy, To The Rescue

We are a TV-less family. I have to admit that I do rather wear it as a badge at times but to be completely honest, it didn’t start out as a noble experiment to better our lives and save my quickly softening brain.

When Action Girl and I got our first apartment together, we were… shall we say, on a highly restrictive budget. Back in those days, we were both working as substitute teachers for the Vermont School System and to say that the pay was spotty and meager, would be charitable indeed. It was also a little slice of hell, but that’s another story.

Our apartment was simple, a third floor walk up on a winding road, tucked in a valley. Most of Vermont, as a matter of fact, is on a winding road, tucked in a valley. What this meant was that though we did not have enough money to purchase a TV, it hardly mattered. With the best rabbit ears on the planet, all we could possibly hope for was possibly two channels, only watchable if I made a tinfoil hat and hung on to the end of one of the antennas like a deranged stick bug.

Cable? Ha! Not only was that not in the cards, but I’m pretty sure it had been removed from the playing deck before we got the pack out of the cellophane. No. No cable.

So, for the first time in my life, I was TV-less. Let the D.T.’s begin. It didn’t take long actually. As soon as you’re a month or so out from the shows that you follow, you realize that as far as the stories go, there is no way to get back on the crest of that wave and you might as well let it slip along with out you and paddle home.

Then, a discovery was made. Suddenly, I had time. LOTS of time! I really got into reading for fun, again. Hobbies that had been set aside years ago were once again picked up and enjoyed. Once the hallucinations and the shakes had subsided, I really got into doing fun things rather than watching other people do them on the tube.

The other side to this component is that I’m a TV whore. I’ll sit there and watch a 2 hour documentary on felt making, no problem. After an evening with a TV at my dispasal, I tend to look up and wonder what just happened to that six hours that I had. I’ve really come to dislike that feeling. If we go anywhere with a TV playing in the background, I have to sit with my back to it or I won’t hear a word my friends or relatives say. I’m that hopeless.

So, it’s been about fourteen years now with out a TV and I’ve never been happier. Now, there’s YouTube and the like to keep up on the things that are culturally important, but for the most part, I’m pretty disconnected with what’s playing on the black boxes all over the country. Then, we had kids.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I still don’t own a TV and I really don’t intend to. My problem is that I also don’t want to cut my kids off from what is really the strongest social bond we have in this country. It’s what kids (and adults) tend to lead off conversations with and so many little TV sayings are sprinkled throughout our everyday chatter, that it doesn’t seem right to make the awkwardness of youth any harder by missing out on such a huge part of the culture. Here again, I call on YouTube.

It’s a wonderful bastion of new and old. On YouTube, we watch a lot of good ole’ “School House Rock”, coming straight out of my childhood memories. Short Stack likes them, especially “Conjunction Junction” but his all time favorite request, is Miffy. He adores Miffy!

For the uninitiated, Miffy is a little white bunny who lives in a small house with Mother Bunny and Father Bunny. She has a red scooter, a proclivity for exclaiming things like “Oh dear!” or “Thank you, Mother.” and plays with various other woodland friends including Poppy and Grunty Pig, Boris Bear and Melody Bunny. I don’t mind him watching this on the computer. Miffy’s been around since 1955, is very easy going, teaches nice, simple lessons such as, ‘butterflies come from caterpillars’ and is pretty slow paced. That and because it’s not on TV, there were no commercials to tempt him and thus, the evils of merchandising were held at bay.

Wrong!

I miscalculated… and I really should have seen this coming. My two year old doesn’t have any money. I have it. The other things I have are access to the internet and the burning desire for my children to have things that make them happy. So, one trip to EBay and bingo, I’m ordering Miffy merch. It started off with a DVD. All the episodes I found on YouTube are pirated, naturally, and thus, being constantly taken down by the powers that be. With the happiness of a two year old at stake, reliability is more than a little important, so, I bought one Miffy DVD. That’s fine. No biggie. It’s not like I’m hooked.

Then, I noticed that Amazon was offering a new Miffy DVD. By now we had watched the other DVD until images from it were burned into my computer’s screen. Short Stack was now capable of quoting long passages and started narrating everything he was doing to an invisible audience. The new DVD wasn’t out yet, but you could pre-order! I didn’t even have to think about it. Out came the plastic. Hey, I can quit any time I want.

Then, one night as Action Girl and I were relaxing in the half hour we get after the kids go to sleep and before we fall apart, I found the motherload. It was the Miffy equivalent of heroin. It was a fifteen inch tall, plush Miffy WITH an accompanying DVD. Needless to say, it was quickly ordered. Ok… We’re hooked.

I was starting to feel a bit ashamed now. After all my high falootin’ talk about no TV and it’s endless barrage of “buy, buy, buy!”, here I was taking up the challenge of finding this stuff on my own and getting it for my kids. What had I become!? AAGH! I’m a consumer of kid’s merch!

Then, a couple of nights ago, as related in my last story, Short Stack had a life changing moment. He learned to be afraid of the dark. It’s the most basic human instinct and an inevitable stage for the vast majority of us. As a parent, it made me feel powerless to help. After all, I can’t stop night from coming.

The day after his first frightening night, a package arrived on our porch. I honestly forgot all about what was inside. It was Miffy. All fifteen inches of happy, white bunny. Short Stack was beside himself with glee. It was the bunny whom he had come to love and quote at length, right here! In his house! In the fur! That night, Miffy went to bed tucked tight in Short Stack’s embrace. The happy little bunny had a place of honor on his pillow and kept the night safe. Nothing could go wrong with Miffy at your side.

So, consumerism isn’t all bad. With the DVD’s. we still get to avoid the annoying ads for various plastic items that your child didn’t even know they needed. We can watch them when ever he wants and more importantly, can pause them to watch later, or over and over and over again.

Now, if I can just cut back on my Miffy habit, I should be all set.

Yah. Right. I’m doomed.

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