Thursday, February 10, 2011

A 12-year-old takes flight

Since winter is currently the only season that my 12-year-old does not participate in a baseball league, this is typically hibernation time for him, since he’s never been a joiner in any of the other extracurricular activities that some of his classmates enjoy: Boy Scouts, chess club, symphonic band. Tim’s interests are narrowly focused, Much as I may wish it were not the case, and he savors afterschool time without structure.

So I was pleasantly surprised when he mentioned that he was interested in taking an afterschool class this winter that he’d heard other middle schoolers talking about: flight simulation class. It’s offered as part of our school’s Science/ Technology/ Engineering/ Math (STEM) enrichment program and involves a local dad in town who is a licensed pilot setting up flight simulators in the library and teaching kids about the mechanics and physics of flight.

Needless to say, this offering is a big hit with the middle school boys, though I’m sure girls have signed up as well at some point. I was delighted to sign Tim up; it was encouraging to see him developing an interest in something other than sports and fantasy fiction about knights and quests, not that there’s anything wrong with that.

But I found it hard to say “Tim’s taking a flight class” with a straight face, even though I knew how politically incorrect the joke was: the whole idea of a flight class reminded me of the September 11th hijackers and the flight instructors from the Midwest who later told investigators that no, they did not see anything unusual about men who specified that they needed to learn only how to fly horizontally and not to take off or land. (Related to that, when I was first getting to know my friend Patricia, whose husband is a licensed pilot and frequently flies their family of four around the country, I was surprised that she had no interest in learning about flying. “What if he has a heart attack at the controls?” I asked her. “Shouldn’t you at least take a class in how to land a plane? Hey, maybe you could split tuition with hijackers-in-training: you can do the takeoff and landing classes and let them take the sessions in the middle.” As I said, I acknowledge how tasteless all of this is.)

In any case, Tim is caught up in the excitement of learning to use flight simulator software, and it seems to me like an ideal antidote for a twelve-year-old with cabin fever. The class meets twice a week; he climbs into the car after each meeting to tell me about which simulated flight path they attempted, which national or regional airport he “landed” at, and what new details he learned about the physics and engineering underlying the basic principles of aviation. My child may be somewhat self-restricted in his interests -- at this rate, he’ll never earn the label of Renaissance man – but that only makes it all the more exciting when something captures his imagination.

When my children were little, I felt like I knew everything about their interests simply by watching them play. Now that they are older, I sometimes wish I had more direction over what they devote their time to. I’m sorry that Tim gave up trumpet lessons this year, and I’m really hoping he’ll agree to sign up for the social dance program that starts next month. As for flight simulation class, all tasteless jokes aside, I’m not sure whether I would have chosen it for him, but I certainly don’t oppose it. I’m happy to see him learning a new skill. Besides, it could come in really handy if he ever goes on a flight with my friend Patricia and her husband.

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