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?

Facial Stubblery

Perhaps it’s because I’ve made a job change recently. Maybe it’s because I craved some other change. Possibly, it’s because I’m an idiot, but I’ve done something that I swore I never would attempt. I’m growing facial hair. A small beard to be specific. Possibly, too small.

The men in my family have never been a terribly hairy lot. Mercifully, most seem to have held on to the growth on the top of their heads but as far as actual hairiness goes, we’re a pretty smooth skinned bunch. In my youth, my Dad did have a mustache when that was the law, apparently, but other than that, all the men I’m related to by blood have been smooth faced. When it comes to lack of facial whiskers in the family though, I am the zenith. I had a fair shot of bucking the trend with the genes supplied to me by my Mom. The French, the English and especially and specifically, the Sicilian gave me an even shot at a lifetime of shaving and you’d think the Sicilian would be the trump card when it came to doling out the facial hair, but Great Grandpa Giovanni’s people didn’t count on one thing. The perfect foil for their Mediterranean fuzziness.

North American Indian.

The American Indian is naturally a pretty scruffless individual, though there certainly are exceptions. A friend of mine who is obviously closer to our mutual deerskin clad family ancestry than I am, sports a full and perfectly reasonable goatee and ‘stash. This is more than I could ever aspire to. When I was a very young man and just entering the fun filled pit of despair that the call puberty, I did not get the choice whether to grow or shave any appearing face fuzzidge. My chin and lip stayed just as smooth as always and remained so for many years.

shaving

When I moved on to college life, I was the butt of much teasing and god natured ribbing about the lack of any shaving equipment in my ditty bag. In fact, it was far more reasonable to follow the practice of my native heritage and simply pluck out the few hairs that dared to show themselves. This way they tended to be gone for longer than if I shaved them and since they were so scarce, lathering up and dragging a razor over my face seemed like a titanic waste of time just to whack off the dozen or so whiskers. As the years went by, the teasing from my dorm mates changed from, “You still don’t shave?” to a more jealous, “You mean you still don’t HAVE to shave?” Apparently, the shine had worn off the morning ritual for them and now it was just one thing they had to do each morning that I got to skip. Most of the guys had noticeable facial hair and needed to attend to it daily, lest they look scruffy. One friend of mine, Kirk, was a facial ape man. More so, when I think of it, since apes really don’t sport much in the way of beards and mustaches. Kirk’s body must have put at least ten percent of its energy into producing hair. By noon, Kirk had a five o’clock shadow. By evening, he looked like a red headed hobo. Kirk had become resigned to this and took the only enjoyment out of it he could and changed his look about twice a week. Monday, he’s be clean, by Wednesday, it would be a handlebar mustache and sideburns. Friday, he would have gone for the full beard and on Sunday, he’d appear with a bright red Captain Ahab.

mustache

I can only imagine how much he spent in razor blades. Unlike Kirk, I graduated school with a smooth and unshaven face and remained that way for a long, long time. He graduated too… just hairier.

As time went by, more and more whiskers seemed to emerge. Unfortunately for me, they didn’t seem to have any sort of a plan as to where they would call home. One side of my chin started to fill in about the time I turned twenty-five. My upper lip needed razor attention too, although the middle bit under my nose remained smooth and hairless. Likewise, the sad little patches on my upper lip have never met the colony on my chin witch to this day only travels down one side of my neck. My chin, at least is covered completely. Well, almost. I had to give up plucking the hairs when the process became too painful and goofy. I had enough to warrant buying a razor now and have been using it daily ever since.

A few months ago, I sold my business and changed my life to one of child watching and house fixing and with this change has come a disruption in my routine. Where I used to get up, bathe, shower, dress and head out the door to work, I now have a much more haphazard morning than I’m used to. The day usually starts with Short Stack hopping into bed with us, followed by a frenzy of breakfast making, clothes getting and walking out little man to pre-school. By the time I’m home again, Lulu Belle is falling asleep on my back and needs to take a nap. I’ll get her down and then dive into some quiet project. The shower gets put off until later. What this has done is given me a closer look at my face with stubble, and you know what? I think I have enough to grow something contiguous!

So, last week, I stopped shaving my chin. The upper lip had to be done, lest I look like a fifteen year old with “My First Mustache™” but the rest is growing in pretty well. Here I am, in the middle of my life and only now do I have enough facial stubblery to have a shot at growing something that could pass for “normal looking.” To be fair, it’s actually pretty early on to call it “normal looking” but hope springs eternal. It’s one of the last rites of passage into the adult, male word. What I have found out is that it’s more time consuming to carefully shave around my little patch of whiskers that it was to quickly zip it off and also I can no longer shave in the shower since a mirror is now needed. I’ll have to see if having a small beard can beat out my inherent laziness. In the mean time, I’ll let it get longer and try to assess if it looks good or like I dribbled food down my chin.

Action Girl says she likes it, but no one else has said anything yet.

I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.

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