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Lost in Space - Adventures of a Rocket Mom

Not so long ago, I noticed my three sons and I were in a slump. It was that in between zone - no longer winter but not quite fully spring. We need a lift, I thought - and immediately recalled - maybe it was the obvious pun - that there were rockets you got a hobby stores you could actually shoot up great distances.

I had tried to find them in December but apparently, these sort of rockets are more seasonal. But spring, yes! Rocket time and I remembered the notion. This would be the perfect time.

So, one Saturday after one of our weekend breakfasts out - another guaranteed spirit booster, the boys and I found ourselves at Ted's Hobby store. "Do you have rockets" I asked. Silly. They have rockets like a baker has flour and yeast hanging about.

We were led to a section in the store and in a glance I saw that rockets were big time stuff. There were countless models - mostly by a company called Estes. Camanche! Nomad! Outlaw!Big Daddy! And Heat Seeker! Oh my. Such names. Inspiring. I felt my own cache of estrogen give way to a tiny thrill of uncharacteristic testosterone (which I carefully hid from my impressionable boys. They know me as a nurturing baker/mom. No point losing the myth prematurely). Well, I thought. This is SO cool. The things you learn dating single dads. I would never have known.

We quickly chose the only choice for first timers: a Estes Code Red Starter Kit. Already assembled, three engine packs, a promised launch height of 400 feet. The store threw in a product catalogue, waved us goodbye and Godspeed and off we went.

My eldest son read up and got us ready for Launch One. We went to a great big park near our house - it even has an artificial lake. On a quiet Sunday morning, we launched our first rocket. 10, 9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2, 1, !!!!!!! Blast off! Up and away it went - and then a parachute top popped up and it floated back to earth - almost catching in a tree - well, actually it did. Hoisting up son number 3 (30 pounds - less than a bag of flour) we retrieved it.

Two more launches - each higher and more thrilling. Traffic stopping - bird scattering, crowd gasping delight. And then disaster. The parachute separated from the mother ship and it floated away, carrying the top portion of our rocket with it. We watched in horror as it landed on the roof of a distant high school. Houston, I think we have a problem. UGGHHHHHH! We all could not believe it. $40 dollars of rocket wizardry ….gone. Poof. Talk about up in smoke.

Big debate. Buy another - indulgent. No more rockets - disappointing. The whole experience was so much fun - unexpectedly so. In fact, it was a struggle hiding my own zeal - it far surpassed the boys'.

Back at Ted's Hobby Store we perused the other rockets. No longer rocket novices - we strolled that aisle of the store like we owned it. We swaggered - craftily eyeing the various kits. Ok, boys, this is it, I said. No Pizza Hut, no McDonalds for a bit if we are investing in another rocket. Agreed, was the unanimous chorus. We settled on the Asteroid Hunter and three engines. Bigger engines. Arfff arffff arfff….more power! We also bought a boomerang for my middle son. Wood. And a yo-yo. I balked at the Pokemon card store. This was all getting ridiculously expensive. But the thing is, the experience had woken up something in me. Professional pastry chef, food writer, cookie baking, piano playing, tango dancer…..was transforming into something else. Macho Mom, a Millennium madonna.

It was a starry starry night. We went back to the park. The air was balmy but not too warm. It smelled of April rain and a touch of mud. We found a spot in the park - the perfect place. All was clear, all was bright. It was launch time. A dog barked. The wind rustled.

10, 9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1…Blast off. The Asteroid Hunter sneered a loud, menacing hiss and catapulted itself into the sky. Up up up….and up more. About 1200 feet - three football fields - gone from view and then…..quiet. Gone. One launch and our $30 Estes 'special' was a myth. Where did it go, asked Ben, my youngest. Who knew? Duluth, Toledo. Orange County, California.

We were all stunned. Disappointed is far too tame a word for the look on my there sons' faces. Dismal with disbelief. They knew rocket time was officially over - our rocket budget spent. Shoulders slumped, we walked back to the car. We did look in the neighborhood for people who may have discovered our rocket in their backyard but to no avail. A bystander who had witnessed lift off called out to us: Hey, ah, ma'am - forget it - I saw that thing go up. It is h.i.s.t.o.r.y. Thanks, I said. No problem - but ma'am, it was a thrill - At least you had that thrill. Yes.

At home the boys were quiet. Macho Mom was just….(lower case) mom again. I offered homemade sundaes. No takers. Does this happen to dads too, I wondered, or nature's way of telling me to go bake another batch of tollhouse cookies? John Gray is wrong. Men are from Mars. Women are from ah……Earth. Terra Femma.

A couple of days later (and after surfing the many rocket web sites - discovering that this is an exciting and big time hobby), I faxed Estes Industry. I asked for nothing. I merely explained that it would behoove their retailers to hand out more than a complimentary catalogue with their starter kits. We should have known more basic data before launching. But I thanked them for their fine product and said, one day, we would revisit universes far away.

Well - I got a phone call a day later. Estes was sending replacement parts for our starter kit, a Reconnaissance Rocket (designed to come back to you or at least, built with some features to make rocket retrieval possible), a do-it-yourself kit for my eldest son, and lots and lots of literature. Like how to retrieve your rocket. How to launch. What to avoid. How to be SAFE. Stuff we should have known. A booklet we should have had.

And Marcy, said the Estes representative, Try not to get the lightest rocket with the most powerful engine next time, kay? Take it easy out there. Yeah. Kay. Roger Wilco. Got it.

We are back in business. Weather permitting, homework done, baseball practices behind us, we have a date with the moon this weekend. In my house, I am almost a hero again (I will be a full hero when the Pizza Hut drought is over). The boys have been reading up. Our engines are stashed away. The Reconnaissance waits, its metallic sheath gleams in anticipation. We cleaned the launch pad apparatus. All systems are go. And when we go to sleep at night, the stars are back in our dreams.

Marcy Goldman

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