Houston, We Have an Irrepressible Youngster (+ Writer Unboxed Redirect)

Flight crew from the Apollo 13. From left to right: James A. Lovell, Jr., John L. Swigert, Jr., Fred W. Haise, Jr.

Flight crew from the Apollo 13. From left to right: James A. Lovell, Jr., John L. Swigert, Jr., Fred W. Haise, Jr.

The problem with having children is that some of them have elephant-like memories, and the problem with running off my mouth is that one of said people will remember an offhand, ironic remark made in 2004 and regurgitate it at inconvenient times, repeating it as if it had been serious.

Then they’ll add a plaintive note and body movements that make me look pitiful and weak, and I’ll have to suppress my laughter and pull a stern face because I am their mother and their mother deserves respect, no matter how whiny and entitled she’s acted in the past.

The recent remark which received this treatment? “I never get to travel.”

They said it each time they dropped me at the airport, Zesties, in this last month, which has been a MOST unusual one for me. I’ve been to Ojai, LA, Ithaca, and Houston. I’ve been improved mentally–which you’ve SURELY detected this far into my post–met with writing friends, hung out with the ToolMaster, and had writing breakthroughs. It has been a freakishly awesome time even if I wasn’t sure which town I would see when I opened my eyes in the morning.

But it’s the last trip I wish to discuss today because of our proximity to Remembrance Day.

Texas-sized salad plate from Sweet Tomatoes, where we ate half of our meals.

Texas-sized salad plate from Sweet Tomatoes, where we ate half of our meals.


I don’t know what YOU think of when you consider that fair city, but I expected big hair, big belt buckles, cowboy boots, honeyed speech with a southern drawl, and time spent at NASA. (I had all of these things in modest doses except NASA. We spent two days at the Johnson Space Center and could have gone back for more.)

The Holocaust would not have made my list. And yet, since Houston is home to the Holocaust Museum of Houston, and since the ToolMaster has had an enduring fascination with all things World War II, we made it our focus for an afternoon.

Have you been to a similar presentation? I don’t know how to describe my emotions by the end of our four hours. They ranged from overwhelmed, sad, rage-filled, crushed, obliterated to grateful, hopeful, determined, and awestruck. At the end, when we stepped out of the main area into a temporary display, I only knew I couldn’t absorb any more. My brain felt like it had been invaded by fire ants and then set afire. (And of course I felt guilty and hyper-aware that I had spent four hours in an exhibit on the Holocaust and was undone by it when others lived that misery for four years.)

At any rate, I needed a reminder of the light side of life, and who should come to my rescue at that moment but the youth of America. I love youth, in case that isn’t apparent, and that’s not in a priest-altar-boy pervy kind of way, but because of their frenetic energy and fresh eyes.

At a bulletin board in a side exhibit at the Holocaust Museum, the kids were instructed to share information on their ancestors: What was their ethnic background and what brought their family to America?

For the most part, contributors on the left-hand side had taken the instructions to heart and written sober, thoughtful cards that would have been at home on college applications and swollen many a parental breast with pride. But someone let loose on the right-hand side. And then they were copied and the replies descended into chaos and irreverence.

Photography is not allowed in the museum, and of course, out of respect, we obeyed that edict. According to the limitations of our memories, these are the best responses the ToolMaster and I can recall:

Soy gringo! I’m Asian and I heart America

I love freedom. You suck, Hitler!

My family came from Africa. We were imported here from slavery.

Poland. My great-grandfather was stealing Russian horses.

Yesterday, as our family stood for our two minutes of silence in sober contemplation, I thought of the irreverent young people in my life, both those I’ve given birth to, and those right side of the bulletin board. What would the vets thing of them? I wondered.

Would the majority of them have preferred to read the left side of the bulletin board or the right? What do you think? 

While you’re here, let me plant a late signpost to my Writer Unboxed post of October. It’s about habit-formation, and as such, can never go out of style:

4 Science-Based Resources to Build a Drama-Free Writing Routine 

NASA--astronaut training center

NASA–astronaut training center


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8 thoughts on “Houston, We Have an Irrepressible Youngster (+ Writer Unboxed Redirect)

  1. What a wide-ranging trip to Houston, literally the heights and the depths of what human beings can do. A Holocaust survivor came to my kids’ school to speak to the middle schoolers about his experiences; he’d been a sweet Jewish kid in German during the Nazi era, and the stories he told of his public treatment at school assemblies were the stuff of nightmares. I’d never thought 150 middle schoolers could be so silent. A few years earlier I’d talked to my son’s 5th grade class about my father’s family in the Netherlands during WWII, which led to talk of concentration camps, and one of the kids in the class had family who’d been in concentration camps during the Bosnia war in the 1980s — so sobering that humanity doesn’t seem to get the message. Which some of those kids brought out in kid-style in their comments on the bulletin board. I like to know that there are the measured responses, but I have a soft spot for the irreverent, for the kids who say it like it is: that sucks! other things also suck! you suck a little, too! Thanks for such a great post, Jan.

    1. Natalie, isn’t that funny, but I hadn’t considered the contrast in heights, yet that’s so true. Though I spent much of my trip in a hotel room with spotty internet, the trip had an “epic” quality to it–meant in the literary sense–because of those two highlights.

      And I agree with you about Man’s slowness to learn. I think that’s why the museum was so devastating. We still haven’t got it.

  2. I walked through that museum with you, feeling the gamut of emotion you described. Beautiful writing, Jan–with just enough humor so I felt the hope. My kids would been drawn to the right-side. Perhaps, me too. I would connected more deeply to the raw honesty, because I’m messy that way. xx

    1. I like messy, too, D. I find it more truthful. I walked many a dark path with patients, but there were always softer, lighter, sillier moments mixed in with the tragedy. Anyway, I NEEDED those kids at that moment, and they were there. 🙂

      Thank you for the kind words!

  3. Such a gritty day for you, Jan — and how lovely that there was some emotional relief at the end. I have a child who would be drawn to the left, and another who would be drawn to the right, and I’m grateful for the balance they bring to my life.

  4. Jan, I am so glad to hear you are traveling a bit. I used to live near Ithaca, too, so I’m bummed that I didn’t get to meet you! oh pooh.

    1. I would LOVE to meet you, Thea, but I’m hopeful that will happen in the WU Conference which looks like it’s becoming a reality for November 2014. Any chance you’ll be able to attend?

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