Spoiling Christmas

One of the benefits I realized just today of the format of this blog is that I can write about Christmas now. I can tell the world that I got my kids a Roboraptor. Even if the kids read this, this won’t be published until well after they have their new robotic friend. What a relief. Sitting on surprises is so difficult. I’ll let wordpress keep the secret.

So I guess I’m not actually spoiling Christmas. But there was a time that I did .

I was 9 or 10 years old, and I was off in our massive, massive house, playing. I was off in another world thinking about some other thing. Somehow I ended up next to my parent’s closet, looking out the window next to it. I turned around and saw in the closet, and saw this:

19143503(Needless to say, I pretty much instantly lost my shit. More info here)

To this day, my mom is convinced I was intentionally snooping for Christmas presents. I wasn’t. And honestly, when I saw it, I didn’t even think about Christmas. Christmas was far away, and mom loved Christmas- she did an excellent job of keeping me pretty confused about Santa’s actual existence. I was really more confused than anything else – why was something seemingly awesome hanging out in mom’s side of the closet?

I went to mom with my confusion and told her what I found. I told her there was “Some kind of shuttle thing” in her closet. She was in the middle of working on something, and instantly got a bit depressed and frustrated. She responded with “You’ll probably be too old for it by Christmas anyway.” That was the point I figured out why there was a cool space ship in mom’s closet. And I felt guilt.

That answer being too vague, I had to get clarification on whether or not I was allowed to take it out of said closet and play with it. With much hesitance and further guilt I asked, and she said yes. And I spent the next several days not interrupting whatever mom was doing.


(Another picture because awesome)

Let’s not mince words here- this toy was Awesome. It was a ship, with doors with another ship in it. It had stuff that opened and closed, wheels that went up and down, and even a guy that sat in all the seats. A few things frustrated me about it, though-

  • The rear landing gear deployed with these two levers you moved on the back of the ship- which was great. The front wheels, though, deployed manually- there was no lever, you had to grab the wheels themselves. This made for a lot of nose-wheel-won’t-deploy emergency situations in my playing.
  • The little rocket engine nozzles on the back wouldn’t stay on the ship. I actually glued them at one point, but the glue didn’t work that well either. This made for many engine failure emergency situations in my playing.
  • There was no way for dudes in the nose section of the ship to move into the cargo section of the ship without going outside first- and worse, going outside meant blowing the whole cockpit cover off, with no way to put it back on it if you were in orbit. Yes, this bothered me. I’ve always been a space geek.
  • Do the black and white sections have different heat-resistant properties, like the real space shuttle? If so, they… don’t make sense.
  • The little ship in the cargo bay:
    • The guy couldn’t get into or out of the little ship with the cargo bay doors on the big ship closed. Has he just been stuck in the little ship since launch? Of course, the guy couldn’t do anything with the cargo bay doors closed, because if the doors are closed the child playing with action figures couldn’t make them move. Strangely (as indicated by the cockpit problem above) toy design didn’t concern me nearly as much as ship design.
    • With the little ship in the cargo bay, the hatch on the bottom of the big ship could not be opened (it banged into the bottom of the little ship). This lead to a bunch of logistical questions-
      • If you want to go outside, but don’t want to launch the little ship, the thing to use would be the hatch. But you can’t, you have to open the big doors. What if you’re being attacked?
      • If you’ve launched the little ship, you’ve opened the big doors. You’re likely going to leave them open (after all, the real shuttle leaves the doors open) so… what’s the hatch good for?
      • The hatch is only big enough for a guy, not a guy and his MMU– and there’s no handles on the outside. Isn’t he doomed to float away and die?

As I’ve indicated, though – these questions I had really just added to the stories I made up. And I think it’s interesting that the flaws encouraged me to learn more, I figured out more about space flight acting out situations with this toy than you’d expect.

However, there was one frustrating thing that couldn’t be easily fit into a story, and likely lead to this toy’s shelving and eventual disappearing from my life- it was heavy – and that was a problem. Pretending it was flying was simply a non-starter. Picking it up was a chore. Holding it above my head while it blasted through the sky on the way to orbit was downright dangerous- between the weight and the smooth sides I dropped it more than once.

That hatch on the bottom that I obviously spent some time thinking about? It was basically inaccessible – because the way you played with this thing was to put it, wheels up, on the carpet in front of you. The hatch is on the bottom, it might as well not exist. Even with the wheels down, the gap between the hatch and the floor wasn’t enough to get a guy through.

What’s that amazing pile of backstory have to do with this entry?

And what does this quote from a friend of mine today have to do with anything?

finding creative solutions, being unstoppable while being adaptive, and seeing clearly is uncommon.

It has to do with the fact I solved the “heavy” problem.

Some time after I got the ship, we ended up going swimming. When I heard that we were going, I grabbed my too-heavy shuttle thing and took it with me- fully intending to put it in the water and play with it in three dimensions.

It was downright magical.

It took a while for it to sink and fully fill with water. It would actually float pretty well- left alone it would eventually sink, but it took a long time. I would accelerate the process by opening the bottom hatch- I very clearly remember watching the water flow in through the circular hatch and smoothly allow the whole craft to submerge.

Once filled, it was perfectly neutral-buoyant. It would stay where ever you put it in the water, on the bottom, in the middle, or near the top. I could have it fly around and roll and turn and act like a spaceship. It was great.

I had always been good at three dimensional spacial orientation – my mom has this story about an airplane I drew in first grade, which was drawn from a specific angle – but I credit the time playing with the GI Joe Space Ship in the pool as when 3D really clicked for me. X, Y, and Z just suddenly made complete sense.

Also, as the ship flew around the pool, I could feel the flow of the water around it’s hull. I could feel how it wanted to point in the direction it was going, and on the really hard pushes, I could feel the turbulence in it’s wake. It was at that point I made the connection that’s so difficult for many people to make; it was at that point I realized that Air is a Fluid. That air, and therefore aerodynamics, work exactly like the water flowing over my spaceship.

I never had a problem learning aerodynamic concepts in flight school.

Why did I write all this?

Being able to come up with creative solutions, isn’t just uncommon, it’s critical to learning. It opens the door to experiences with unexpected results.

Being unstoppable while adaptive is simply not getting discouraged. If something’s awesome, there’s probably a way to make it even more awesome. Just because it’s great as-is doesn’t mean it can’t be better, and often those improvements are found not by changing the thing, but changing the environment it’s in. People usually associate discouragement with failure, I find that to be the less problematic discouragement. The more problematic one is when people think something is great and therefore can’t be any better. That’s dangerous, and blocks improvement and creative solutions. Next time you feel that way about something, try putting it in a swimming pool.

Seeing clearly is simply constant analysis– which is step one to not allowing the current situation to be simply accepted and not improved, which is the precursor to finding creative solutions.

As we know, finding creative solutions is a critical ability.

I wanted to write all this, because it’s critical I impart the analysis, determination, and ability to find creative solutions on my children. It would have been very easy for my parents to not let me put that undoubtably expensive spaceship in the pool- and they did certainly wonder why I wanted to- but they allowed it, and it silently changed my life for the better. I understood more of the world around me, which only enabled me to go understand even more.

I bought my kids a robot dinosaur tonight, and hid it in my closet. I can’t be sure that it will trigger a new set of understanding, or create any situations where they may need to come up with a creative solution- but I sure hope it does.


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