A few months ago, I was watching an Oprah episode on happiness. I didn’t see the whole thing but I recall a part of it where the guest explained that when you buy something new, the happiness surrounding that purchase only lasts 9 months. This was an interesting thing to hear because it seemed surprisingly accurate. Think of all the things you *have* to have and think about how you feel about them several months later. I own very few things that still make me as happy now as the day I bought them. In any case, the guest’s point was that memories make happiness last much longer. In fact he explained that you get more bang for your buck to spend money making memories than buying actual things. That point has really stuck with me.
So last weekend, when our family plans to watch the space shuttle launch went awry (think, 12:30am email summons to a 9am meeting on the wrong side of the state) I knew I had a choice to make. And laying in bed at 2am discouraged and angry that our plans had once again been foiled by work, I got the sudden urge to go anyway– to go on my own.
Now for some people this would have seemed like a most logical solution but I was at the time 32 weeks pregnant and I do not like driving in the dark (don’t see well). Nor is it anywhere within the distant reaches of my comfort zone to do things like that alone. But at that moment somewhere in the wee hours of the morning I decided it would be an adventure I had to attempt and that no way was my son going to miss the last launch of the space shuttle on account of me being a coward.
So I got dressed and put Andrew in the already loaded car. I set the GPS and off I went… on 2 hours of sleep… across the state for what was only a 20% chance of liftoff. The drive was quiet minus my nearly 3 year old chatterbox in the back seat who despite my urging, had no intention of going back to sleep. We were doing pretty well until I noticed we were getting low on gas. After pulling off at 5 consecutive exits and not finding an open gas station anywhere (it was around 4am) I started to panic. Long story short, we made it to a gas station, driving 15 miles on “zero miles left”. Talk about guardian angels! That plus some serious bumper to bumper traffic near the space center really had me rattled and convinced I had made a very very stupid choice to attempt this so called adventure.
But then something changed.
I had been on the phone with A for a while when Andrew asked to talk to daddy. I handed him the phone in the back seat just as the first glimmers of dawn approached and the sky lightened slightly enough that one could see a few of the details of our surroundings. Andrew yammered away, telling A about all sorts of fantastical things when suddenly he caught sight of what I believe is a full scale model of a shuttle along the side of the road. Grasping for words he pointed and shouted into the phone, “Daddy, Daddy! It’s a… it’s a… it’s a HOLY MOLY space shuttle!”
And I realized at that moment he would not forget this experience.
Upon our arrival to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Center, I got Andrew out of his pajamas and dressed. I loaded up our backpack with as much as I could carry and grabbed his hand. I knew we would need chairs and perhaps even our cooler but I knew more than anything I wanted my hands free to keep a tight hold on Andrew as we headed into a mass of humanity and that meant sacrificing chairs. We were so lucky to find my mother in law and brother in law quickly and I breathed a sigh of relief to have help. We met up with the rest of A’s family and started our 2 hour wait to board the bus to the launch site. I’ll admit that at this point the exhaustion was started to get to me– and it was only around 7am. Finally we made it to the launch site and set up a little camp where thankfully, the others had brought chairs and were kind enough to let me sit on one. We got breakfast and the wait started but I’ll be the first to say, 3 hours passed very quickly and the anticipation started to build as with each passing minute it seemed more and more likely that the shuttle would in fact, launch. Andrew kept asking when we were going to go to see the shuttle and I knew explaining it to him was useless as he had no real concept of what he was going to see. Instead I told him he just had to keep on waiting, we’d see it soon.
Twenty minutes to go turned into 5 minutes to go and then a brief delay at 31 seconds accompanied by the word “failure” caused a great groan to roll throughout the 45,000 some odd people waiting along the shore of the river across from the launch pad. But quickly the countdown started again and I didn’t have to tell Andrew where to look, for as soon as the bright golden fire appeared radiant on the horizon he let out a gasp of glee and he continued to giggle in the most lighthearted childish tone until the shuttle had long left the Earth’s atmosphere. I didn’t need to explain what had happened. In that moment he knew and he knew it was something truly special. In those moments, between his glee and my own tears of joy I knew it was something truly special too. The first shuttle launched just 12 days before I was born. I watched, at the age of 5 in horror as the Challenger exploded. I watched other launches in the school yard with the rest of my classmates hoping to be one of the first to glimpse the orange dot as it crossed over the state. I remember where I was when I heard about Colombia. I watched the first night launch on TV. I once wanted to be an astronaut and I knew then that even the word “special” didn’t do the event justice. We had just witnessed history. It wasn’t just special, it was monumental.
The rest of the day was something of a blur and Andrew managed incredibly well considering that he’s 2 and had had only slightly more sleep than I had. We saw some of the sites at the Visitor Center and had ice cream before walking, exhausted and sticky with sweat and dirt back to the car. We headed north to Daytona Beach and somewhere in the middle of describing for perhaps the dozenth time that hour, about how the shuttle went “up, up, up in the sky into outer space with FIRE (and fire’s hot so you can’t touch it!)” Andrew fell fast asleep and I knew it didn’t matter how tired or hot or uncomfortable I was, it was completely without a doubt worth it.
A joined us that evening and the next day we drove to the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse where all three of us (no make that *four* of us) climbed to the top. We went and enjoyed lunch at a cute restaurant along the Intercoastal and then, dressed in regular clothes, we stopped at the beach where we let Andrew run around in his clothes and get completely soaked in the ocean tide and covered in sand– something I can say with absolute certainty, my parents would NEVER have let me do. And all I could think the whole time was, I hope he remembers this. I hope he remembers these moments– these simple experiences of running in the surf, of climbing the steps of a lighthouse and viewing the world from the top, of watching one of the greatest technological feats of our time. I hope that long after he outgrows the t-shirt and eats his astronaut ice cream and forgets about his plastic space shuttle, that what he has left is even more precious and even more significant. I hope he remembers.