Sunday, June 11, 2006

Arizona Travelogue Day Two: So That's Why We Do This

It was another full day. Due to the time change (Arizona is two hours earlier than Minnesota time) I awakened early (5 AM Arizona time) this morning, spending a few quiet meditative moments before getting Tony up for breakfast. We decided to let Kyle sleep, and the two of us headed down for the “continental breakfast” our hotel offered. With plenty of carbohydrates plus some actual nutrition provided in fresh fruit, we added gas to our tank. Note that I said “added,” not “filled” the tank. Gasoline at the only station in the small town of Tusayan was $3.59 a gallon. Then I made a last-minute decision I had been brooding about for a day or so. I scheduled the three of us for a twenty-five minute helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon. Although I have a strong aversion to heights and an inclination to motion-sickness, I decided to invest in an attempt to make some memories with these two sons.

We returned to our hotel room, where Kyle was up wondering where we had been. I told him the dreary details and then said, “However, I made a decision without your consent.” His eyebrows rose and his expression was quizzical. “I decided to schedule us for a helicopter tour of the Canyon.” His nineteen-year-old machismo and attempted impassability faded as a smile cracked his stoic face. “Sweet.” And then the echo I have come to expect over the years from this, our oldest son who is hoping his parents will help him finance a car this summer, “How much?” Holding up four fingers I witnessed the surprise and gratitude spread across his countenance. “Thanks, Dad. That’ll be dominant.”

In the next few minutes we packed our bags, checked out of the hotel and jumped in the car to spend our final two hours at the Grand Canyon. At 9:00 AM the cars and RVs were already stacked seven back in the four lanes headed to the Canyon. We hurriedly figured out the shuttle bus routine and hopped on a shuttle toward the western reaches of the Grand Canyon. Assessing our time limitations, we decided we could go only part of the way, so we visited three of the drop-off points and caught the return shuttle back, where we walked the half mile to our parking place before exiting the park.

The western extremes of the south rim of the Canyon are rustic (if you can call any site visited by literally millions of people a year “rustic”) and capture the essence of the Canyon experience. The views are ineffable. I saw my first sign of reptilia (or is it amphibia ... I forget), a pair of geckos gamboling across the rocks in the warming morning sun. To date the only snake I have seen has been breaded and on Tony’s dinner plate last night. I was hoping to have some kind of snake story to bring home with me, but it looks unlikely at this point.

We arrived at the airport (there really is a Grand Canyon Regional Airport) and were weighed and instructed about safety precuations while aboard the helicopter. I had been doing my best to repress my small aircraft (is a helicopter considered small aircraft?) phobias, and now there was no turning back.

Tony was fortunate enough to have the seat next to the pilot, right in the front where he could experience the Canyon in a very direct sort of way. Kyle and I were seated across from one another (I facing forward, fortunately, and he backward), and I could see from the excitment in his eyes that I had chosen an experience that would provide lifelong memories. We slapped the headphones on our ears as instructed (the roar of a helicopter is deafening ... I now understand why President Reagan could never answer a reporter’s question near a helicopter, and it wasn’t because of his age), and began to lift off from the ground. Viewing the trees and dry foliage from the air is not a difficult task for me. Knowing subconsciously that if we had to make an emergency landing we would be well cared for with the flat ground beneath us comforted me, although my stomach was already feeling the effects of the bumpy, jerky ride.

I did all right, really I did, until we crested the opening of the Canyon. To look down into the bowels of the earth is an awesome, frightening experience. I could tell that Tony was experiencing no difficulties with his flight, and Kyle was eagerly looking about, snapping a few pictures here and there, including one he asked me to take of him strapped into his efficient helicopter safety gear. The cold sweat breaking out on my body reminded me that my preference is most assuredly a terra firma one. I did my best to hide my discomfort from both boys – and I think I succeded on that account – as I worked to convince myself to enjoy the trip. (There are all sorts of ways to do this, one of which is the “Remember how much you paid for this” recitation).

And the fact of the matter is, I did enjoy the trip. To have the opportunity to see the Grand Canyon from the air is spectacular, and I am grateful that our family, though often stretched financially, is able to off these kinds of opportunities to our kids.

Upon our return Tony and Kyle affirmed their enjoyment of the experience, we purchasded the obligatory family-with-copter-picture and headed east toward the other end of the Canyon. The views from the east are equally as lovely, perhaps even moreso in my estimation. The Watchtower site is one of my favorites, I think.

And so we began our trek east and south to Grammy and Grampa’s. We passed through the Kaibab National Forest (an interesting use of the word “forest” I would surmise through my Minnesota-influenced viewpoint of forest equaling massive ranges of trees and undergrowth), and through Native American reservation land. We laughed together at the signs for one of the pull-off Native America sales sites. “Friendly Indians ahead,” said the sign. “Nice Indians here,” the final sign declared. Not sure if this is Native American humor playing to the Old West lore time has forgotten, but it did make us chuckle together.

We spent an hour or so at the Meteorite Crater site near Winslow, Arizona, another fascinating feat of nature. The Crater, originally named “Franklin’s hole” for its discoverer decades ago, is the largest known example of a site where a meteorite has crashed into the atmosphere of earth and ravaged the surfaces. It is nearly two miles in circumference and provides an eye-opening opportunity to consider what the next meteorite crashing into earth might look like.

By now it was approaching 5 PM and we had promised the grandparents we would be there no later than 7, so we launched into our final moments on the hot, dusty Arizona portion of I-40, a trucker’s paradise. As we drove along, I was mentally calculating the expense of our day, when eleven-year-old Tony, oblivious to the costs of life, asked about yet one more way to spend some money. Kyle, frustrated by his younger brother’s incessant demands excoriated, “You’re so greedy, Tony. Dad has already spent lots of money on us today.” I kind of glanced at Kyle and said, “Well, Kyle, you were eleven once, and you seemed to have learned something about the value of money in the past eight years.” “Yeah, college has opened my eyes about that,” was his reply. “And so,” I said, “I think Tony will figure this out someday, too. He won’t be eleven forever.” I got no response, which for Kyle is a rather telling indicator.

A few miles later Kyle said, “You know this trip would have been a lot cheaper if it had just been you, dad.” I knew it was his way of saying, “Thank you,” and so I said, “Yeah, I know. But I have discovered that this is one of the few things that parents can do to make a lasting difference with their kids.” “What do you mean?” He asked, assuming I meant that spending money was the equivalent of good parenting. “I mean that part of being a parent is spending time with and spending money on in order to make some good, lifelong memories that the kids will always have.” “Yeah, I guess so,” was his respectful-enough rejoinder.

And then I realized something I have been struggling to make sense of for months, maybe even years. Why do parents put up with the bickering, the begging, the whining, the manipulating, the inconvenience of trips like this? Because it creates the opportunity for life-long memories.

And how is it that my children, adopted and not ours by birth, can experience this as an advantage? Because the memories we are helping to create for our children are giving them a childhood, a childhood that would have looked much different had they been consigned to continuing neglect, abuse or deprivation. Their early years and memories may be filled with neglect or abuse or lack, but perhaps trips like these can help them feel that there is something innately worthy in their existence, that they are worth spending money on, and that they are precious children of God who deserve to have some moments that are filled with generosity, self-lessness (on the part of their parents, anyway) and simple fun.

Yeah, so that’s why we do this.

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