For months and months Sweet M has wanted to go to the Intrepid Museum "to see the kind of boat grandpa lived on."
I had demurred, having spent more hours than I care to remember of my own childhood summers at airshows, visiting aircraft carriers, or wandering the halls of air and space museums. I remember in particular the airshows, where the Blue Angels would soar in formation overhead, doing loop to loops and other acrobatic aeronautics.
For some people, like my father, who was a retired naval aviator, these shows were simply thrilling, and he wanted to share his excitement with his family. What I remember from these shows was the noise, the crowds, the heat — it was always on the hottest or second hottest day of the summer. There would be the burning sun, the smell of jet fuel and exhaust, the dropped sno-cones melting on the bleachers, the horrifying roar of the jets overhead. And afterward, there would be the sunburn, red and blistering. Sunscreen was a prescription-only product in those days. On such outings I often wept, or screamed, or quarreled with my siblings, or shutdown and stared at single object in an effort to maintain my equilibrium.
Now, parenting a child on the spectrum, I understand that I had been experiencing sensory dysregulation. It was just all too much for me. But then I just understood summer and these outings as something to be dreaded and endured.
So the idea of visiting the Intrepid, docked on the Hudson River, in the heat of the summer and the Memorial weekend crowds had, as you might anticipate, almost no appeal.
But Sweet M had wanted to do this for so long. She wanted to honor her grandfather's memory by visiting the aircraft carrier and seeing the airplanes. And so we went.
We had sunscreen.
And water bottles.
And it was fun.
Neither of us could believe that her grandfather had lived on a boat like this — sweltering in the South Pacific heat. At the Intrepid Museum the bridge of the ship has an air conditioner so that the museum docents don't pass out, but there were no air conditioners in the aircraft carriers of 1940s. And no sunscreen for the sailors or naval aviators. And the noise and heat and commotion of jets taking off and landing was accompanied by the anxiety of the impending war with China (that became, instead, the Korean War.)
I wonder how they did it.
Which makes me wonder how the young women and men serving in Afghanistan and Iraq do what they do. They do have sunscreen, and there are internet connections to family and friends. But as far as I can tell those are they only improvements. There is still the heat. To which one can add the sandstorms. And the constant anxiety of the improvised explosive devices, coupled with the military commands' failure to supply them with adequate equipment like armored jeeps and flack jackets. They work alongside highly paid mercenaries who complicate and undermine their missions. And the mercenary's huge salaries make the the gift of the troop's military service look like a fools' errand. Finally they contend with public support that is muted by the fact that the invasion of Iraq was premised on trumped up intelligence.
I am thinking of them today. And of my father, who served at the close the Second World War, through the Occupation and the Korean crisis, twenty years in all.
And I am thinking of the military families, especially those with kids on the spectrum. How to they get by, faced as they are with the limited resources of military salaries and with single parent families imposed by stop-gap re-deployments?
These are the people I'm remembering today. Memorial Day, 2010.