SUPERIOR, Colo. – There must be something about looking up at the world that alters (improves?) a kid’s perspective. Movies are that much larger. Ballparks are that much grander. Darth Vader is that much more Darth.
It’s as if everything is skewed or exaggerated just 12 degrees off normal so that candy is sweeter, mornings are animated and Barney is entertaining.
They can tell the difference between Dippin’ Dots and ice cream, create endless playtime possibilities out of a tire gauge, and see adventure in the sliver of light between a jetway and an airplane.
At least that’s what Ian found there.
One of the things that the boy wonder, who is 5, has said he wanted to do this winter was go on a trip “like Daddy.” He sees me pack up a couple bags and leave town for some major-league city and has wanted to tag along. So, for Christmas he got a piece of kid-sized Pullman luggage and a choice on where to go on a guys’ trip – just the two of us, father and son. He picked Colorado because, as he explained, “the last time we went you didn’t show me the house you grew up in. I really should see that.”
We left this morning and it became clear quickly that Ian was going to have to confront two fears on the trip, repeatedly:
— Going down an escalator.
— The jetway gulch.
The escalator is a matter of balance, and he has difficulty getting on the down escalator while pulling his luggage or holding on to his backpack. Going up isn’t a problem. The down escalator moves just a little too fast (perhaps 12 percent) for him to pull it off comfortably. And it’s not just at the top that he struggles. He sees those metal teeth swallowing the escalator steps at the bottom and quickly calculates that if he had trouble getting on at the top then there’s no way he’s going to get off at the bottom without the teeth doing a number on his shoes or chewing up his luggage.
The jetway is something else entirely.
My grandpa used to call it the “kisser.” He explained that when an airplane would land, the airport would be so happy to see it back home that it would “kiss” the airplane’s cheek. We would benefit from this affection because we could get off.
When Ian first traveled down the “kisser” to get on the plane he was in a stroller and didn’t know it wasn’t a seamless journey from gate to jet. It’s only recently that he’s spotted this gap between the jetway and the plane. In some cases it’s barely enough to pass a magazine through. It’s never large enough for one of Ian’s precious action figures to pass through. But it is big enough for the boy wonder to see the ground – and if he can see it then he’s pretty sure there’s a way to fall there.
As we got on and off and on and off again the flights today, each time he greeted the passage from the jetway to the airplane with trepidation and a new way to traverse it. The first time, he insisted I lifted him and his bear Chaucer over the threshold and then pass him his backpack and rollie. Getting off the plane, I only had to hold his hand as he lunged with every inch of a stride he could muster. Getting on the second plane, he reached out with a toe to test the sturdiness of the plane (I suppose) and then jumped from the jetway to the airplane, using his luggage like a pole vault for the extra inch. Each time, we slowed the boarding process for the other “priority access” folks just enough to get some glares. Having now bested the jetway gulch three times, the boy wonder was apparently flush with confidence when we got off the flight of the day. But as he neared the kisser with purpose I saw his fear of the gap clearer. He again left his Pullman to me. He shifted his backpack so that one shoulder strap was over his head, bandolier-style. And he tossed Chaucer from the plane to the jetway.
This was no casual toss, no gently 4-foot lob.
This was a save-yourself heave.
This was a third-story-of-a-burning-building chuck.
With Chaucer safely across the gulch – phew! – Ian took two steps back and got a running start for his jump. That’s why he had shifted the backpack – so that it was tighter to his back as he made the leap. Safely on the other side, he grabbed Chaucer, turned toward me and watched see if I followed the trail he blazed. It was as if he saw that step off the plane as a rope bridge in Indiana Jones. There were swordsman behind, safety ahead and alligators – hungry, hungry alligators – below. He had made it across and now wanted to be sure I did the same.
I saw that his sense of accomplishment didn’t come from the distance of his jump or even that for the fourth time today he made it over the gulch, but instead from how he had flung Chaucer to safety and showed me the way across.
The reason he wished for a guys’ trip was because he wanted to know what I do when I travel for work. He got an eyeful. We got up before the son to get to the airport for a 6 a.m. flight – the hockey writer’s express. I got flagged at security and he had to wait for me as my hands were wiped with something vaguely like a dry Oxy-10 pad. We had to fly through Dallas to get to Denver just as you have to fly through Dallas nowadays to get anywhere from St. Louis. (As our plane eased toward the terminal at DFW, Ian looked at me and said: “So, this is Dallas. Do they speak English here?”) He had the joy of waiting for nearly 45 minutes on the rental shuttle. He did not succumb to the standard initial disappointment upon seeing any rental car, preferring instead to see the upside as we approach the hatchback.
“Well, it looks like a speederbike to me,” he said.
I’m not quite sure where he wants me to take us on our rental speederbike. We have lunches planned with some friends. Some time schedule with grandma and grandpa in the mountains. He wants to see the house I grew up and the comic book store I went to as a kid, but does he also want to schools I went to? The movie subdivision that has been built around the creek we used to float down? The cul-de-sac we turned into our very own Wrigley Field each summer day? The parking lot I learned to drive in? We’ll have about five days of adventure on Guys Trip 2012 and then it’s back home – through Dallas, of course – and back across the jetway.
“With practice,” he told me after that last leap, “I’ll get better.”
I almost said I hope so.
But now I’m not so sure.
Getting better would only mean he’s getting older and losing perspective.