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Randi Kreiss

Teens launch rocket in Woodmere backyard


Well, there’s a bit more to the story than the basic facts of the headline.

It all started when my 12-year-old grandson from California decided to visit us for a week. Meantime, the other grandson in Florida, 14 years old, injured his ankle the first day of basketball camp and asked if he could come to New York, too. What would you say? So the cousins got an unplanned extended visit in the Big Apple, and we got to have our two teenage grandsons in the house 24/7 for seven days, one of them in a boot and on crutches.

My husband immediately left for California. He said it was for business, but I think he took one look at these half-boys/half-men, with all the galumphing symptoms of pre- or incipient teenagery, and he bolted.

I had a few challenges, and only two priorities. I’ll start with the latter. I wanted to send them home alive and in no worse shape than when they arrived. And I wanted them to have fun. The challenges were: how to deal with the wicked hot weather, and how to keep them off their screens.

I should mention that before my husband ran away, he took the boys to Costco as an activity. They came home with 48 packets of applesauce and a rocket. The rocket was seven feet tall and, theoretically, could be launched with a hand pump and water.

That night, at dusk, we went to the Hewlett High School field and the boys set up the launch pad. They brought rocket fuel (bottles of water) and they were jacked on applesauce. The younger boy did the pumping while the kid on crutches did voiceover from Mission Control. There was a pop, screams from the boys, a fizz and the rocket keeled over.

Next day my husband left town, and I had to get creative. It was 98 degrees, so I took them to Roosevelt Field, where everyone else on Long Island had decided to escape the heat. One day we went to a movie, and another, to the supermarket. One evening we walked on the boardwalk, crutches and all. In a stroke of genius (desperation) I taught them how to play whist, a 19th-century card game, and they totally loved it, a fact they will never reveal to a living soul.

How strange it is to have alone time with these young people who are the children of my children, as if someone were playing a trick by sending these boys, one of whom looks and sounds exactly like his father, and the other is an uncanny version of his mother. Early-teen boys are about-to-be. It’s such a tricky time, with zooming bodies and minds addled by hormones and a real self-consciousness about how to be in the world.

And, they can eat, big time, all the time. There were flocks of chickens flying through my kitchen. I splurged $8 on a honeydew that was deconstructed in minutes while we stood and chatted before dinner.

My grandsons deployed their best manners, asked to leave the dinner table when they were finished, held doors for me. But all teens need continuing education in social skills. It isn’t particular to my grandkids. Assuming life skills are taught at home, they should be reinforced in school. Kids aren’t born knowing how to make conversation or how to reach out to a friend in need.

Schools should also be teaching practical classes, such as Being An Educated Consumer. The world of $1,500 designer sneakers might be upended if kids learned that most sneakers are basically the same, except for the labels.

On their last night with me, the rocket men scheduled the relaunch. Could they shoot the rocket up in our backyard? Of course. Why not?

“How does the water actually make the rocket fly?” I asked.

“Grandma,” the 12-year-old said with some irony, “I’m not a rocket scientist.”

They set Phallic II on its launch pad. The older boy did the pumping. The younger cousin did the screaming and running around the backyard, and what do you know, the thing took off. It shot up into the trees and into the clutches of the big leafy branches. Hours, and many ladders and broomsticks later, it crashed back to earth.

What a night. Boys running around the backyard, muddy feet pounding through the house, mosquitoes dive-bombing our dinner plates . . .

I believe that rocket made me a time traveler.

Copyright 2019 Randi Kreiss. Randi can be reached at randik3@aol.com.