Every time I see the glint of the International Space Station zipping through the constellations on a clear night, I think I might enjoy being an astronaut.
I mean, not for a full six-month mission.
Back at the office, they’d wonder what happened to me, and my honey-do list at the house is already backed up as it is. But floating in microgravity for a couple days with a sunrise interrupting every hour and a half sounds like just the thing to take the edge off a tough week.
Nice as that’d be, I’m pretty sure being able to pick out the bright speck of the space station from the surrounding stars is the closest I’m ever going to get to space travel.
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My two kids, on the other hand, still have the cosmos in reach.
Right now the careers that look interesting to them are firmly earthbound. But they still have time to maneuver themselves into just about any job they want. Astronaut, even.
And there’s no telling what turns their aspirations might take.
I wanted to be a puppeteer when I was the little one’s age. Then I lurched toward optometry as soon as science classes got interesting and jumped onto a track to be an English teacher when math kicked my tail.
One day, a counselor at my community college convinced me that a career in academia could only lead straight to the poorhouse. Before I figured out that the guy just really hated his job, a journalism professor whose class I’d enrolled in on a whim set me up with a newspaper scholarship, and it’s been pretty much nonstop journalism in one form or another for me ever since.
Coming from that chaotic early career trajectory, I’m happy about what my kids have been up to in the past couple weeks.
The big one tagged along with Mom when she went to work at a 5K race one weekend. It sounded like more fun than what his little brother and I had planned, and there would be a chance to meet an Olympic athlete who was slated to show up.
On a whim, he decided to enter the race. Did pretty good, too, taking second place in his age group.
Several days later, he was asking my wife and me if we’d take him to an open house to see the medical science program where he hopes to earn a spot when he’s in high school a couple years down the road.
The little one likes to run, too. He had a reputation for being the last one to tire out during sprints at his old martial arts studio, and he recently came home bragging about his time in the mile run at school.
On a whim, he signed up for a yearlong elementary math competition when school started this fall. His team tied for first place at the first meet this month, but mathletics started out for him as just a once-a-week thing he wanted to try out.
He’s a dabbler like that, so I wasn’t surprised a few weeks ago when he mentioned that he needed a circuit board kit for a project he wanted to take on at school. And it wasn’t a surprise a while later when he said he’d shifted focus to nuclear technology and would appreciate another look at a book on the topic I’d showed him a while back.
The chances that either boy is going to grow up to be an Olympic runner or the next Oppenheimer are slim, but there is still a chance. And as long as that’s the case, it’s not a bad idea for them to keep up a little skill in a lot of different areas — athletics, sciences, maybe even something to do with an old puppet of mine that’s down in the basement.
Watching them jump from interest to interest reminds me of the answer that Robert Baden-Powell supposedly gave when someone asked him to explain “Be Prepared,” the motto he’d come up with for the new scouting program he created after coming home from the Boer War.
What, exactly, did he mean to prepare children for?
“Why,” he answered, “for any old thing.”
Wise man, that Baden-Powell.
Richard Espinoza is a former editor of the Johnson County Neighborhood News. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.