Noahvose: Nea'ese


Wisconsin, USA
February 21
History Teacher
A Great Plains guy living in the Great Northwoods and feeling Claustrophobic.-- Masters in Anthropology (I thought we could use some Indians digging up white people).-- I have an amazing wife and two beautiful boys.-- I teach high school history and at an Alternative School for at-risk youth.-- ...and I have a serious Jelly Belly problem


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APRIL 18, 2009 3:29PM

Kids & the Apollo 13 Syndrome

Rate: 19 Flag



I had gotten a call from a parent who had run out of ideas and who felt like she was running out of time. We met in my class, and she described for me what the past year had been like with her daughter, Samantha (Sam). Now, I knew this parent and knew that she legitimately cared for and tried to guide her children wisely. But she felt something had gone wrong. Sam, a senior, was one of those kids who it seemed nothing could reach. All of the advice of educational psychology and parenting magazines didn’t seem to scratch the surface of what it would take to reach her. I knew better than to waste any more time giving Sam the you’ll-understand-someday lecture or the caring-adult-to-wayward-kid talk. She was bright and knew what you were going to say before you said it. That was the point; Sam already had weighed the consequences of her actions and accepted them. To Sam, nothing anyone could say would teach her anything she hadn’t already thought about. So, her mom talked some and cried some to me, and I listened.


Then came one of those rare moments of clarity. Without any sort of forethought or planning, something occurred to me about Sam, and most children in general. I let her mother finish what she was saying, and then I asked her if she had seen the movie “Apollo 13”. She replied, “yes”. Sometimes, I’m not quite sure where these metaphors are going, and by her expression, I could tell she wasn’t either.


“Do you remember the part of the movie when the capsule with the astronauts has to return to Earth?”

She nodded, “Mmmm Hmmm.”


 “By now, the NASA engineers are afraid that the heat shields might not hold. If they don’t, the capsule will burn up and disintegrate. The astronauts are reentering Earth’s atmosphere; the temperature has turned the outside of the capsule red, and fire is streaming behind it. To make matters worse, there is a time during reentry during which those on the ground will not be able to communicate with the astronauts. The silence of that scene seemed unbearable. Everyone is still, quietly waiting for those first words, which will verify that their hard work and planning paid off and the shields held. Finally, after what seems a lifetime, the voice of one of the astronauts comes through. Everyone on the ground takes a deep breath and celebrates.”


She still looked at me, with that same puzzled look, waiting for me to make my point.


“Maybe this happens with our children. Like those scientists, we plan and work hard; we build those heat shields the best we know how, hoping they’ll protect them through the fires. But there comes a time when there’ll be no communication. And when that time comes, all we can do is pray that our hard work will pay off and that they’ll come through unharmed. It’s the time most parents fear the most, a time of complete helplessness. We fear for our children and want to control the situation. But the control is in the preparing for that time. I think you’ve built some pretty strong shields. I think she’s going to come back safe.”


I don’t know if that meeting had any long-term effects on her relationship with her daughter, but it did with me and my sons. I realized the lesson of Apollo 13:  work hard in the beginning and build strong shields, knowing that a time is coming when my sons are going to need them. During that time, I’ll have to have faith in what I’ve tried to build and wait for them to come back to me.


Sometimes, those moments are as much, or more, for my sake. I do know that briefly, that day, she felt better and found some hope in letting go. So did I.


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What a touching metaphor, beautifully related.
Yes. I don't have kids but if I did I would read this every day. Well said, and well done.
your metaphor shows me what a gifted teacher you are. --rated--
I agree completely. I love this and will share it with the other parents I know.
Thanks everyone for coming by and responding. I know I have some time before my kids get to that age when they won't listen, but I remind myself all the time that what I do (and sometimes don't do) will be important then.

Thanks for everyone's comments
So true, so true. Well related, and what all parents need to remember sometimes.
Owl - thanks for coming by and for your comment. I know I need to remember most of all.
This strikes me honest and true. Thank you for writing it.
Hells - Thank you. It is a true story, but whether I can write stories so that they ring true is not always easy...I guess it should be if I just record what happened, which is what I tried to do in this case. Thanks for coming by.
I know the day will come when I will have to remember this lesson. Hopefuly I still have years to prepare but I guess we never know. It sounds like not only your students but their parents are lucky to have you in their lives.
Thanks for the kind words Mamoore, but like I was just as much of a lesson for me as it was for her or anyone else. I'm glad I have some time, because it's going to take a lot of trial and error.
Simply wonderful. I liken this process to wabi-sabi.
Thanks Scupper...I have no idea what that means.
Noah: Great metaphor from a(n unexpectedly) great movie. All I could add is that the effort to both provide the shields while staying in touch with children is constant. It's hard work but nothing's more important. Thanks.
Jeremiah, thanks as always. I appreciate your insight. It does take both. Also, even if one side doesn't listen, you're right, the other side must keep saying, "I'm here."
That is one of the best metaphors I have heard. From what I see on the outside of parenting, it seems to hold. You do so much groundwork, but the whole thing is a process of letting go. You have to finally trust in the work you've done and the example you've set.
This was very good.
Noah, I'm sorry it's taken me awhile to read this. I love Apollo 13 and I loved the story as well as the implied message. Those NASA scientists had no play book to use. They focused on the reality of the situation and what tools did they have to fix it. Parents need to remember and trust the tools they have given their children. Too often they focus on the problems and not the opportunity for solutions. There will always be problems. As parents, we need to focus on teaching our children the skills and creativity to solve them. You sound like such an amazing teacher. They are all lucky to have you.
Delia - Thanks. I read somewhere that we don't own our kids, we borrow them. You're right, it seems it's all a journey to eventually let them go (not totally though)

Mary - You're right. It's the same with teaching. I don't have to teach them every part of history if I can teach them to enjoy learning about it. Then, they'll continue to teach themselves. Our kids will do the same if we teach them to enjoy life and problem solve. Of course, then we'll run into them at a Boulder gathering getting high (for those of you who don't get this, read Mary's recent post.)
What a great analogy. And I remember that scene well.
Thanks Lainey, did you ever hear back from your discontented OSers? I enjoyed that last post.
Great piece. I should print it out for my parents to read. They still haven't learned to let go and trust they did a good job raising me.
Travis - Yeah, I hear you. My mother still feels like she needs to tell me how to do the laundry. I just hope I can do better at letting go of my boys when it's time.

Sao - Thanks, but like I said, it was just as much of a lesson to me.
As I used to say to parents regarding their often hard-headed middle adolescents, experience is often the best and hardest teacher. Teens often have to learn how much they really don't know or how much life doesn't go according to plan. And if you've set a good foundation, they will be back when they learn their lesson(s).
teendoc - It sounds like we have similar jobs and experiences. It's always amazing to me how many parents would protect their children from every lesson life has to offer just because there might be some knocks and bruises along the way. I can only hope that as my kids get older, I can be more hands off and trust that the lessons took hold.