Astronauts and Tortillas

Astronauts and Tortillas

Like most parents, from the moment we found out we were expecting we pondered what sort of future person the amalgamation of our personalities, abilities, and genetics would produce.

Clearly, any child of ours would have to be a delight: Quick-witted but kind, intelligent but not socially inept, creative and confident. Basically he’d have every good quality a person should have, and none of the ones they shouldn’t.

A big part of these discussions, naturally, was to wonder towards what sort of future career a child born of a cartoonist and a biomedical engineer would gravitate?

We thought “architect” sounded like a reasonable outcome. After all, it was what I thought I would have to do if I wanted to draw for a living, without being a poor cartoonist.  But as a child I hated thinking about the necessary math involved, so I chose to be a poor cartoonist after all. My wife, on the other hand, does math for pleasure. Surely this would rub off on our children, right?

Besides, even though there’s a good possibility that real architects will be all but extinct before too long, that seemed like a far less scary prospect than that our progeny would gravitate something we couldn’t understand, or know how to fully support or nurture. Like, wanting to play sports professionally (*shudder*).

Our eldest son Tucker is four years old, and for the first time recently has started to talk about “what I want to be when I grow up.”  There have been a few stops along the way, but for several months there has been one consistent stand-out that has taken the lead:

“I want to be an Astronaut!” he says.


Now, I won’t lie; no matter how proud I would also be, it would scare the living daylights out of me to watch my son be strapped to a gigantic rocket and launched into space. What if they want to send him on a multi-year mission to Mars? An experimental faster-than-light trip to somewhere they should be sending poets instead? (Dear Lord, please don’t let him want to be a poet. Amen.) And what if he gets in with those ne’er-do-wells at the Weyland-Utani Corporation?

I mean, sure, I think I’d be terrified at the danger he was in at times no matter what he did, whether an astronaut going to space, a cable repair man climbing those freaky tall towers, or a stressed-out CPA at tax time. And besides, my son, the astronaut? That’s some prime parental bragging rights right there, my friend.

There are also some big benefits to this line of thinking on his part for me, particularly as a geeky dad.

For one, it’s great excuse to watch interesting videos about the space program, or for that matter watch Star Wars together. “Honey, I’m preparing him for his future career!” I say to my wife as she rolls her eyes.

But really, you’d be amazed how his interest in All-Things-Space is a gigantic open door into teaching him about all sorts of interesting factoids about the world around us. Why, recently as we sat around the breakfast table eating our pancakes, Tucker spontaneously asked why things float in space. That transitioned into a long conversation about gravity — what it is, how it works, how it’s stronger or weaker on different planets, and why it affects things differently in space. We even did some experiments where he tried jumping as high as he could from a standing position, then tried again while holding something heavy to simulate being on a planet with higher gravity.

This is what we do for fun around here, yes.

Anyhow, all of this is to say that I’m quite content supporting his dream to be an astronaut. Even if it never comes to be, it’s an interest that will point him in a good direction.

Last Saturday was a big birthday weekend in our house, since our youngest son Coltrane, my wife, and my mother-in-law all have their birthdays on three consecutive days. We had a nice little lunch-time party with friends and family, and that evening went out to my wife’s favorite Tex-Mex restaurant for dinner (and free sombreros for the Three Birthday Amigos).

Much to Tucker’s delight, we were seated at a table with a great view of a little open area where an employee used a huge industrial press and a rotating griddle to make hot, fresh tortillas. It was a pretty slick setup, honestly.

Tucker was enthralled, asking tons of questions and persisting that he be allowed to stand on his chair for a better view. We’ve made tortillas together at home, but this was different. He just could not get enough.

But then he said it: “Dada, I want a job doing that when I am a grown up!”

“W-what? Making tortillas?” I asked, a little concerned with this radical shift the career goals of my four year old.

“Yes. Did he have to go to school for that job?”

“Well, I’m . . .” I carefully chose my words, “I’m sure he had to learn, yes. Someone had to teach him how to do it right, and how to do it safely, so that’s like going to school. You see how fast he works? That takes a lot of practice.”

“I think I want that job someday,” he said, with satisfaction. “Then you and Mama and Coltrane could come to the restaurant and I could make you tortillas.”

“But . . . I thought you wanted to be an astronaut.”

“I do!” he assured me, “But maybe I can also have a job using the machines to make tortillas? For a little while? Before I become an astronaut?”

I suppose he’s right. His first business card saying “Astronaut” is more than a little bit unrealistic.

Astronauts don’t start out as astronauts. First they have careers as pilots or engineers or scientists or teachers, never mind the random jobs I’m certain most of them have had over the years as students, or just to make ends meet. Of course he’ll have to do the same, and do his work with pride every step of the way, just like how I was a Subway “sandwich artist,” perfected my “Jump to the Pump!” as a gas station attendant, and even did a stint as a traveling vacuum salesman.

“You know what, buddy?” I told him, “I think you’d be really good at running the tortilla press.”

“Yeah, it would be so fun!” he beamed.

“And then when you finish going to school for the job you want to do in space, you could become an astronaut. You could do that as a pilot, or an engineer, or–”

“Or a cook!”

“A cook?”

“Yes. I could be a cook astronaut.”

“Um. Hmm. Well . . . yes. I suppose the other astronauts would need to eat. And maybe you could do experiments to see how to cook really good food in zero-gravity. What sort of food would you want to cook?” I asked.

“Tortillas!” he replied, because of course he did.

“Tortillas?”

“Well, SPACE tortillas!

Join the Discussion!
neal says:

My daughter, with forty pound weights strapped to her:

“Yeah, how you like that, huh? That Jupiter, baby! Stick that in your pipe and smoke it!”

But, more to the point, I enjoy your writing a lot, Chris. And I think I’m gonna have a lot of fun with my kid as she grows to be the age of yours.

James says:

Haha. There is just something alluring about making Mexican that one can’t get in space. Like sampling the output. Great story.