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The falling boy 

The Observer wrote some weeks back about our trip to the Arkansas Railroad Museum in Pine Bluff, a gem of a spot with a large collection of vintage rolling stock that is all open so you can clamber up and over and through the old cars and cabooses and locomotives, sit in the driver's seats, and pretend you're Casey Jones. If you're a train buff or have a kid who is, get thyself to Pine Bluff. That's an order.

One thing we neglected to add to that piece was something that, in hindsight, says quite a bit about the way any parent who is worth a damn never stops worrying about his or her child.

The Observer has long been a worrywart father, not necessarily a hoverer, but only because we have stopped from being within arm's reach of that boy since the day he was born. One of the only good pieces of advice we ever got on the subject of being a parent came from our own dear, departed Pa. Here it is: Let them fall if you can stand it.

That's right, helicopter Moms and Dads: Let them fall. Right down, into the very dirt, even if they scrape an elbow or knee. Not only does it show your child that his or her body isn't made of glass, it allows them to see that they can, all by their lonesome, find the strength to pick themselves back up again. That's a skill that some people never quite get the hang of, but one which everybody in the world will need sooner or later.

The Observer has tried to follow that advice, but we struggle. So, when Junior was climbing the steel ladder to the cab on one of the locomotives at the Railroad Museum last month, The Observer found himself standing behind our mannish boy, holding up our hands so we could catch him if he slipped.

Junior is, you understand, 6-foot-3, and weighs about as much as a freshly stocked Coke machine. If he'd fallen, we're pretty sure he would have ruptured his Old Man's spleen on the way down. But I damn sure would have tried to catch him.

Once you have a child, it never leaves you, friends. The old worry. The old care. Junior's father has let him fall, and resisted the urge to rush in and right him. But the only thing Yours Truly is sure of is that we'll be barely suppressing the urge to catch our falling boy until the day he lays his dear old Pa in the clay.

Speaking of long-term planning: The Observer and family are getting out to Washington, D.C., in a couple of weeks, the result of The Observer's discovering that air travel isn't as terrible as we remember it and that if we're willing to drive the relatively short hop to Dallas, one can get dirt-cheap airfares that make a long weekend in New York, Boston, D.C. or even San Francisco possible, even on a meager budget. So, we're leaving on a jet plane.

The Observer has been to D.C. before, as you might remember. We went out there to see the second inauguration of Barack Obama, on a bus, a trip that lives in our family lore as one of the most hellish experiences of The Observer's long life. We won't recount it here, but suffice it to say that Junior still pleads with us to tell it start to finish from time to time, so he can cackle at our woe.

Thanks to a series of misadventures, The Observer — who has dreamed of visiting the museums of the Smithsonian Institution since he was a little boy — didn't get to see a thing in D.C. other than the inauguration. As close as we got was a trip to the gift shop of the Museum of Natural History, where we bought a pewter shot glass bearing the seal of the Smithsonian for our father's grave. The Smithsonian, you see, had been his dream too. The folks we were with — Arkansas Times photog Brian Chilson and the Log Cabin Democrat's Courtney Spradlin — surely thought Your Correspondent batshit crazy, weeping like a fool there among the T-shirts and stuffed dinosaurs, trying to pick out a knickknack.

We said then that we would return. And so we will, if all goes well, in a few weeks. It's probably not wise to count our chickens in this world where nothing is certain. But we find we can't help it. We will walk those halls. We will marvel over treasures. And we will think of Dad, who was always there to catch us.

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