this is my boy, kipp. he could collect toy trains or comic books or baseball cards, but nooooo. his hobby is jumping out of airplanes, and the weekend before thanksgiving, i got to see him compete in the national skydiving championship.
i’ll get to the conference part in a minute, but first, let me introduce you to my son:
when he was 11 years old, kipp was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. he could’ve tucked himself into a nice safe cocoon where he remained comfortable, but instead he pursued acting and snowboarding and running themed marathons (like the time he ran through the mud carrying a huge boombox) and eventually skydiving. which is not to say that he runs around constantly pushing the limits and behaving recklessly. no, he’s quite the balanced guy – one helluva writer who’s also holding down a full-time job, raising a dog he rescued from the pound, participating in some open mic nights, snowboarding during the season . . . and skydiving every chance he gets.
i’ll get to the conference part in a minute, right after i show you a few snapshots of my boy at the recent championship:
here he is right after his chute opened. his dad argued that some other guy was kipp (his dad also mistakenly goo-goo’ed over somebody else’s baby in the nursery after our daughter was born, but we’ll talk about that another time).
and this is kipp righting himself in preparation for the landing:
and finally we see kipp – well, we see his chute anyway – safely on the ground:
i’ll tell you about the conference, but first you need to know that kipp’s team, relativity, came in 2nd at that national championship.
okay, now proud mama is ready to tell you about the best conference of 2009 . . . which isn’t exactly a conference but i’m going with it anyway. if you squint, i promise it comes close to qualifying because: (1) there were several people there, (2) i only knew one of them (2 if you count kipp’s former girlfriend, but let’s not), and (3) i learned something new. (not something you’d call a marketable skill, but still, i learned something. something important.)
kipp practices for skydiving competitions during weekly sessions in the indoor wind tunnel, and one day last year, (this is as good a time as any to mention that i just don’t track linear, chronological time that well) he took me along. i watched the 5-minute training video, suited up, double-knotted my shoes, and took my place in line (last).
before we started, the instructor went over the hand signals one more time. this, he said slightly curling 2 fingers, means bend your legs slowly. and this, he said straightening out those same 2 fingers, means straighten out your legs just a little. this, he said putting a finger to each corner of his mouth, means smile, and this, he said displaying the hawaiian sign for hang loose, means relax.
as it turns out, falling into the tunnel is my specialty. once inside the tunnel, however, things went ugly fast. some of the air churned by the unbelievably huge and loud (even with earplugs) jet engines went right up my nose and, well, you know how when you forget that you’re not a fish and inhale while under water and feel like you’re gonna’ drown any minute now? it’s not just a water thing. it can happen with air, too, i’m here to tell you. i felt like i was going to drown and just like in the movies, my life whizzed by before my eyes.
okay, well, not my ENTIRE life, but i did vividly remember that one time when i went swimming at lake spivey with my friend joyce and nearly drowned because i jumped off the concrete block wall (don’t ask why a lake had a wall – just don’t ask) a little further to the deep side than i should have been. ordinarily i would have just waded in like i normally did, but you see joyce knew everything about everything (just like her mother did) and she was best at everything (just like her mother was) and she knew everybody who was anybody (just like her mother did) so naturally i could NOT tell them that i didn’t know how to do anything more at a lake than walk in ankle-deep water.
i was drowning in jet-propelled air this time, though, and right about then is when i realized that while i could read their signals, we hadn’t begun to talk about mine. i began motioning furiously to the exit door, and the instructor just smiled and gave me the relax sign. eventually, when i pulled away and just started to swim (i’m embarrassed to tell you that i did – i swam through the air) towards the exit door, the instructor picked up on where i was headed and helped me get there.
my boy and his friends were kinda’ concerned about me, but honestly, my early exit meant more flying time for them, so their concern didn’t exactly eat up a lot of clock. i gave myself a good talking to and knew – i just knew – i couldn’t quit. i might never have this opportunity again, so i had to shake it off, take myself in hand, get back in there, and fly.
and when it was my turn again, i did – get back in there, i mean – and i swear, it was a near-exact repeat. fall in: check. air goes up nose: check. panic sets in: big time check. again i started with my own wild, obviously indecipherable hand signals, and again the instructor gave me his signal to relax. every time i’d manage to get myself oriented towards the exit door, he’d grab a grip on my suit and spin me back around. with my eyes, i pleaded with the guy in the control booth to GET ME OUT, but he just smiled and turned up the air. finally i realized that i was, in fact, going to be in that tunnel until my time was up, and so, i reasoned, i and i alone was responsible for how i spent my time there.
relax, i told myself, and i relaxed. breathe, i told myself, and i breathed. look around, i told myself, and i looked around. shoot, i think i even smiled a bit. i focused on what my body was doing and feeling and marveled at how the slightest movement – just a quarter turn of one hand, for example, changed my direction or altitude.
when my 2 minutes were up (yes, it sounded like it was a lot longer, didn’t it?), was when i was just getting comfortable.
i’ve thought a lot about that conference. about how short my time was there, about how i spoke my own language that not everybody understood, about how my slightest movement was powerful enough to affect big changes . . . about how if i’d've been given a face guard to provide full-face protection, things might’ve turned out much, much differently.
the story is mine, but credit for the kindling goes to gwen bell and her best of 2009 blog challenge.