Tuesday, May 21, 2013

I Want to Ride My Bicycle

It's been so long since I posted that I forgot how to start a new one.  After clicking "view blog" twice I finally made it back to the editor and figured it out.

The non-facebookers are probably unaware of my recent hijinks.  I've gotten involved in the motivational poster/infographic biz.  And by biz I mean completely without pay.  I'll post something one of these days and try to include some of them.  But this is NOT.  THAT.  POST.

On to the fun.

Yesterday while Leslie grocery shopped I took the kids outside to play.  After climbing all over the "playground" they meandered out front and Emma said she wanted to play with chalk.  So Lily wanted to play with chalk.  This was great because the weather was great.  We doodled on the driveway for a while before Emma asked me to get her new bike down.

Emma got a bike as a prize for being the biggest fundraiser last year for something at school.  She REALLY wanted to win, and honestly we half-assed our participation at best, but the grandparents bought and we bought and the cousins and aunts and uncles bought...and ultimately she won because apparently our version of half-assed is like twice as good as everyone else's version.  To them, it might have seemed as if we used our entire asses. 

Anyway...she won first prize.  So she was super excited because nobody (including her) had really thought she'd win anything, she just wanted to participate so that she qualified to play on some inflatable bounce housey thing at recess one day.

Anyway...the bike.  It's been hanging in our garage ever since then.  The garage...it's not clean.  And there's really no place to put a bike, so it was hanging off the wall.  And this leads me to my secret shame as a parent:

I never taught Emma how to ride her bike.  If there is some sort of fatherhood bike-teaching DNA that I'm supposed to possess it somehow skipped a generation because I actually get nervous when Emma tries to get me to take her someplace level in order to learn how to ride her bike.  What do I tell her?  Balance harder?  

Our cul-de-sac is not huge, and it's not flat, and our biggest struggle CONVENIENTLY learning to ride the bike, is that there's no straight stretch of road that doesn't immediately accelerate the bike at some function of the accelerational force of gravity (think 9.8 meters per second per second), minus wind resistance, minus friction, down the hill until she approaches light speed and is hit by a car.  So that's out.  And it was never convenient, and it was always too hot or too cold or to wet or too dry or I was too busy or whatever, until ultimately she turned 11 and was one of the few kids in her school who had never successfully ridden a bike without training wheels.

And while some father-daughter verson of "Cat's in the Cradle" played ...time is/was running out on the whole "teaching her how to ride the damn bike" thing.  This bike had no training wheels, but at this point she wouldn't have allowed training wheels on the bike anyway...because now she's 11 and it's embarrassing to be 11 and have training wheels on your bike because your dad was too lazy to get motivated and teach you (my past teaching attempts involved phrases like..."okay, now pedal and don't fall").

So yesterday she took the bike down to the cul-de-sac.  It was perfect because the neighbors were gone, and it's embarrassing to be an 11 year old attempting and failing to ride a bike while a 6 year old neighbor kid rides circles around you and asks why you aren't keeping up.  She pushed off and just glided with her feet barely above the pavement.

I watched this with interest.  "Em, you're essentially riding your bike right now.  The only difference is you're not pedaling."

Lily too took an interest.  She decided she wanted HER bike.  After some tire pumping I got her bike out...and it was too small.  But we had Emma's old bike, so I pumped up the tires on THAT bike (can you tell how big a priority bike riding is?) installed the training wheels, grabbed a helmet and took it down to the street to see...Emma...riding her bike. 

I was so proud.  I was SO excited for her.  Really, I'm not kidding that it had been one of my most guilty feelings as her dad, not getting her on a bike enough...and here she was riding it.  It was a little stop and go at first, but she got the hang of it.  I shot a video and fired it off to Leslie who got a little emotional (not that I was immune from it).

And then Lily pushed herself around a little before I started helping her and by god my kids were bike riding.  It seems so silly, but I know most of the people reading will get it.  MY KIDS WERE OUT RIDING BIKES.  I thought about posting something to Facebook later..."Just out in the cul-de-sac while the kids ride bikes."  You know...just something casual...and then saying, "YEAH BITCHES!!!  Drops mic and walks off stage."  It really was an awesome and triumphant feeling.  Not for me...cause I didn't do shit except watch my kids play together.  Let me say it again...WATCH MY KIDS PLAY TOGETHER...GOD that feels good.  Watch my kids play together.  I feel like Dory when she starts gushing about her ability to remember the address on the back of the diver's mask in Nemo..."I don't get tired of saying it, I'll tell you again, 42 Wallaby Way Sydney."

And they played a good portion of the day together...slides, swings, chalk, bike riding...GOD it was awesome.  Emma is like Lily's best therapy in terms of socialization.  She WANTS to play with her.  She WANTS to do what Emma's doing. 

Anyway, on maybe the nicest day of the year so far, my kids played outside together and I just stood there and gushed and enjoyed it.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Do You Remember?

Emma's Math class has one last big project for the year:  "Dream Vacation".  It's a really cool premise.  Each student is given a $10,000 budget and has to plan a dream vacation, complete with food, lodging, fuel, gas, air fare, whatever...and make a presentation on it.  They've already completed "Dream Job" and "Dream House".  It gives the kids a chance to APPLY math, which I think is awesome.  Math can be such a dry topic if you don't see the application side, and even the application side can be pretty stiff if it's not a "fun" application.

So we were eating popcorn, watching "The Voice" (or something) and asking Emma, "Where do you want to go on your dream vacation?"

Tropical Island?  No...Hurricanes
Cruise?  No...shipwreck
Hawaii?  Are you kidding?  You want a volcano to blow you up?
Greece?  Tsunami.  (I pointed out that Tsunamis don't really hit Greece, but she wasn't having any of it)

Finally, Leslie said, "Emma, you're funny.  You're so nervous about all these vacations because you're afraid something bad will happen."

Emma asked where I wanted to go.

"The moon," I said.

She immediately agreed.  This of course made us laugh because the reason she didn't want to get on a cruise ship, essentially, is that in the movie Chipwrecked, Alvin and the Chipmunks accidentally fly off the ship on a borrowed kite and land on an island, separated from Dave, their bumbling caregiver.  This sort of separation really makes her anxious.

"You're afraid to get on a boat, but you'd get in a rocket?" I asked incredulously.

"Yeah, cause what could go wrong."

Leslie said, "Oh boy, we should watch Apollo 13 with you sometime."

"Or the shuttle," I added.

The shuttle.  I hadn't thought about it in SO.  LONG.  And even saying it off the cuff I wasn't really THINKING about it.

Emma didn't know what we were talking about.  DIDN'T KNOW. 

And so we told her.  We told her in the way that kids today will tell their parents in 20 years about the Boston Marathon or 9-11.  Or how our parents might have told us about the Kennedy assassination.

Leslie talked about being in school, and I got in story teller mode and tried to really make it interesting for her; I tried to really get her in the moment.  It really is something important to revisit.

My version of the story was essentially this:

"We were in study hall.  We had a really small school, and the cafeteria had a TV that got network broadcasts on it.  Everyone came to the cafeteria to watch."

This part confused Emma a little, so I explained. 

"This shuttle lunch was really a big deal.  There had already been a dozen or more launches, but they'd done this nationwide search...they'd trained a teacher to go into space.  The idea was she was going to go up and experience it, and when she came back, she was going to think of all sorts of new ways to get kids interested in learning about space, and develop neat new ways to teach it to them." 

When I said the part about the teacher, Emma nodded understanding, like, "yeah, okay, I get why it was such a big deal in school."

"She wasn't an astronaut or anything, so they had to take a really long time to train her to BE an astronaut and get her in shape for the flight.  This was a huge deal for schools, thousands of teachers applied and she was the one picked."

Leslie remembered how everyone thought she was so pretty.  I remembered that too.  She was just exactly "The Girl Next Door".  Sort of pretty in an honest, small-town kind of way, if that makes sense.

"And the shuttle went up, and we watched it, and maybe a minute or so in...it blew up."

And Emma looked confused and so I explained.  She asked about the crew.  I said, "They were all gone.  All of them died."

I got out the iPad and searched Youtube for "Challenger Explosion".  There was footage from CNN.  I started the video and Emma sat next to me and we watched.  They counted down, the engines ignited, it lifted off.  The cameras stayed with the shuttle and the image got hazier as the zoom on the cameras tried to keep up while the Challenger surged into the distance.  It was three miles into its flight in less than a minute. 

Even though I knew it was going to happen any second, when it blew up my breath sort of caught involuntarily and I felt myself get a little misty all over again at this explosion that happened almost 30 years ago and these people long since dead.

We watched in silence as the rocket spun in wide loops away from the main explosion, circling and quartering across the sky.

"Where are the people?" she asked.

"They're gone.  They blew up with the shuttle."

"Oh." she said, in a small voice, although she didn't sound upset, "What happened?"

"It was really cold that morning," I said, "And they'd already delayed the flight a bunch of times.  And they really wanted it to take off, but the gaskets" (I said gaskets but explained about o-rings later) " ...the seals that separated the flame from the rocket fuel got colder than they should have and got brittle and cracked and let the flame hit the fuel."  I tried to explain about gasoline and fire...and how rocket fuel is like gasoline, but way way MORE.  (Then I told her never to light gasoline on fire...seriously, what the fuck is wrong with my parenting these days)

"AND..." I said to her, "AND, and engineer tried to tell them not to launch.  He told them that the o-rings had never been tested at temperatures as cold as the ones they had the day of the launch and they FIRED him." 

I looked this up later, and found I was sort of wrong.  Roger Boisjoly warned them of the danger and was overruled.  He wasn't fired, but he was shunned at work, and ultimately resigned to become a speaker for workplace ethics.  He was a pretty big deal when I was going to college, the example that Engineering professors used when discussing doing "The Right Thing".  And I think everyone knew that the term Whistleblower was previously a pejorative one...but I think that Roger Boisjoly made it into something else.  I'd be curious about other engineers' takes on this.  It was certainly what I felt.  

How DARE they value launch over safety.  How DARE they value loss of face over loss of life. 

But I digress...

And she looked stunned at this.  "Why?"

I explained what had happened.  I explained about politics and public relations (in a nutshell) and how they thought he was being TOO careful and TOO focused on the details and that everything was going to be fine.  And how he had made them all look so bad.  SO bad.

It brought up a lot of memories for me.  In the moment it was stunned disbelief.

Anway, when all this came up, I was really feeling it, and wanted to share it, and wonder if any of you ever think about it, I mean REALLY think about it, the way we've all thought about 9/11 or Columbine or Newtown or this newest Boston Marathon Bombing.  Because I think it's worth thinking about.