This is a guest post by Shelley Sackier. See the bottom of this post for more information about this engaging and talented writer and her upcoming book, The Antidote.
“So how ‘bout that whole folding of the fabric of time thing?” I asked when it was finally my turn in the long line of people forming a queue.
“I beg your pardon?” an elderly NASA engineer asked, his two furry white eyebrows fully sewing together in the middle of his face.
“Time travel,” I clarified. “You don’t have to keep the research bits a secret from me. I’ve got a badge and everything. I’m allowed to be here.”
I felt a sharp yank at my elbow and was spun out of the line and pushed toward the conference hall’s exit doors.
I heard the engineer ask the assistant at his side to find new batteries for his hearing aid as he thought they were going a bit dodgy.
I detached the sharp claw around my arm and glanced over at my daughter. She was a little redder than I thought healthy—like the color a kid’s face turns when they’ve been holding their breath after you tell them they’re absolutely going to eat every last bit of liver on their dinner plate thank you very much.
And then they explode.
Chloe could have gone either way.
“I thought I told you I was going to vet each one of your questions to panelists,” she said, crisply.
“Yes. You did. But you were busy talking to someone who was showing you how to cure cancer in space—or something like that—and I thought that info was too valuable to interrupt.”
She gave me her best Oh my god I can’t believe we’re from the same genetic material face and walked down the corridor toward a display of spacecraft materials—textiles that could absorb great gobs of angry heat.
I’d need to make it up to her. I was here—at NASA’s 100th centennial celebration and symposium—as her plus one. I’d been given access to all the talks, lectures, panel discussions, power point slideshows, and live beam-ins from the ISS.
I was meeting and listening to some of the greatest scientists, engineers, and administrators of the great big NASA family—a family Chloe has been dating for the last five years—and I’d better not be the black-socked and sandled potted uncle who blows it for her by showing up at the posh annual family BBQ asking where to erect the bouncy castle I’d just rented for the event.
She wants a large, shiny ring from these people. I was tipped off early when she uttered her first words, which were Neil Armstrong, or jet propulsion—or something similar. And like any parent who would give their left lung to see their kid succeed, I knew my job was to fan the flames of her enthusiasm. Not douse them with a hose of parental cluelessness.
So I sat quietly for the next many hours. A full two days of many hours. During this particular episode of I am going to do my very best to be the geek mom you wished had birthed you, I listened to people explain what had been taking place the last one hundred years in labs and clean rooms—that part I called history—and what would be taking place in the next one hundred years but mostly on spaceships and extraterrestrial terra firma—that part I called magic.
Human exploration, space technology, mission objectives, and interplanetary sleuth work—a bazillion talks showing what happened to the lecturer when someone made the mistake of saying to them, “Betcha can’t make this happen.”
It’s the hair-raising results when smart people get bored and have access to wind tunnels.
Now, I’m not going to say that every single speaker had me at the edge of my seat, wide-eyed, and breathless. There were plenty of rumple-suited, mumbling lectors who lost their places or couldn’t figure out how to work a laser pointer. Moments where I would turn to Chloe and accusatorily whisper, “That’s not a real word,” or request that she explain to me in one sentence or less how nuclear fusion for space travel would work.
But the videos were definitely thrilling bits of rousing drama. In fact, I’m pretty sure that NASA uses one guy from Hollywood to do all the musical score work because every inch of it was EPIC. Like Academy Award-winning musical compositions. I felt heart-melting stirrings in my soul when seeing a scientist simply unfold some foil. It could have been what he was having for lunch, but I didn’t care. I just wanted to see if eventually Ridley Scott would ask Matt Damon to play that guy on the big screen.
Most of the events I attended with her as she was growing up were rocket launches, NASA facility tours, seminars, and camps, which I naively referred to as space camp until I was reminded by my then teen that THIS IS SO NOT SPACE CAMP, MOTHER!
I did not know that.
We do not share a lot of crossover knowledge. In fact, a Venn diagram of our shared language only includes the average coordinating conjunctions like, and, but, for, nor, or, so, and yet.
Most of the unearthly affairs I have accompanied her to over the years have simply ended with a few awkward handshakes and a long car ride home where Chloe—now jacked up on a dinner of Sour Patch Kids and white cheddar popcorn—would once again patiently attempt to explain what project she’d just been invited to work on as an enthralled student intern. But this time was different.
At the end of this spectacular convention was a massive NASA gala. Tuxedos, sequins, fish and chicken, politicians, musicians, astronauts, and journalists. The early computers, the young engineers. The daring old stories, and the futuristic visions.
It was a room filled with people who had done great things, and with people who dreamed of doing great things.
It was a room that held the remarkable past and the unfathomable futures. It was filled with an electric energy, the promise of possibility, a gritty determination.
Yeah, it was filled with a lot of waiters too.
I thought that by the end of the night I had done my utmost to behave. To absorb the sagacious words of pioneers at the frontiers of space. I’d kept my hand at my side and simply remained fixed on their words, their proposals, their data, and their accomplishments.
I did not chase people into the bathrooms to ask burning questions about Mars, or the moon, or asteroids, or multi universes.
Except for that one guy, but he hardly counts. Because Chloe doesn’t even know about him, so mums the word on that bit, capisce?
The point is, I have always been at her side. Actively listening, eagerly encouraging, and yes, hopelessly left behind.
I eventually realized over the years the most important truth: she did not need to have my comprehension of how she would one day send things up into space, she only needed to have my support of it.
P.S. Best text of the year? Mother, talk to me. I’m sitting here waiting for the spaceship to wake up. She’s unspeakably cantankerous this morning.
(Chloe now works for NASA at the Jet Propulsion Lab on the EDL team preparing to launch the Mars 2020 rover.)
Shelley Sackier is the author of The Freemason’s Daughter (HarperCollins 2017), Dear Opl (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky 2015), and the upcoming novel, The Antidote (HarperCollins 2019). She writes both middle grade and YA fiction. She visits schools to illuminate the merits of embracing failure just like NASA and to further her campaign to erect monuments to all librarians.
The synopsis of The Antidote:
In the world of healers, there is no room for magic.
There is only knowledge—precious wisdom, painstaking accounts of herbal remedies and long-practiced techniques handed down from healer to apprentice since the beginning of time. Fee knows this, just as certainly as she knows that her magic must be kept secret.
But the crown prince Xavi, Fee’s best friend and only source of comfort, is sick. So sick, and so frustratingly incurable, that Fee can barely contain the magic lying dormant inside her. She could use it, just a little, to heal him. But magic comes at a deadly cost—and attracts those who would seek to snuff it out forever.
Soon Fee is caught in a whirl of secret motivations and dark pasts, where no one is who—or what—they appear to be. And saving her best friend means delving deeper into the lush and treacherous world whose call she’s long resisted—and uncovering a secret that will change everything.
You can find Shelley all over the internet.
Look for The Antidote to come out on February 5, 2019!