This was the first story I had written and posted on the web—way back in 1995. There wasn't much content on the web back then so this actually earned a first page spot in search engines for "paper airplane"!
Andy is my six year old son. Actually, if you ask him, he'll say "almost seven." He stopped saying six about a month after his birthday. That was the time when every cell in his 48 pound body went on the quest for independence. I guess every kid goes through this phase, but I have to wonder whether any other parent ever heard "You know mom, I think you're almost as smart as me" fall from their child's lips.
Last school year Andy had a wonderful teacher who believed that experimentation and imagination are a fundamental part of a healthy classroom. Several boys began making paper airplanes. I'm sure they initially expected this to anger her, but she simply encouraged them to use scrap paper and be creative. Soon the boys were having flying contests, sharing plane designs and flirting at the very fringes of classroom safety. Andy told this to me over dinner while creating pictures in his peas and spaghetti.
"Andy, stop playing with your food and eat," I said.
He suddenly erupted, "I don't know how to make a plane. All my planes turn out stupid."
Later that evening, I remembered a book my parents bought me when I was a young boy. The book is titled The Great International Paper Airplane Contest. I rummaged through our overloaded and warping bookcases until I found the giant yellowing book. As I went through the book with Andy, every page revealed something new, something of strategic importance. Andy's face glowed with the intensity of pre-historic man discovering fire. He finally snatched the book and disappeared up the stairs to his room leaving me to contemplate what I had actually unleashed. That was all I heard about paper airplanes for several days.
One evening I tripped over his green, scuffed backpack coming through the front door. Just about the time I was going to yell for him to pick his stuff up, I noticed a paper airplane peeking through the front pocket. This wasn't a design I had seen before. Did one of the other boys have more advanced technology?
"Andy, come here!" I hollered. Soon he was thumping down the stairs.
"What? Oh, I'll pick it up," he said while wearing his best teenager attitude. As he started kicking his shoes and other stuff into the coat closet, I asked him where he got the plane.
"I made it at school," Andy said, his voice a little surprised. I think he expected a lecture on how he should treat shoes and backpacks.
"Who showed you how to make it?"
"Nobody. I made it myself," he said.
"How does it fly?"
"Pretty good. You can throw it hard and it goes a long way, or you can do tricks like this." He contorted the wings, gave a quick toss and the plane did a loop then a barrel roll and crashed into the stove.
"Not bad," I said, suitably impressed. "Can you teach me how to make it?"
"Sure!" he exclaimed, his blue eyes sparkling at the sudden thought that he knew something I didn't.
I managed to find a couple sheets of slightly rumpled notebook paper by the phone. Andy guessed "it would work, but you're wasting clean paper." I watched carefully, duplicating his every fold with my own piece of paper. He started with the paper side-ways. From there it proceeded like a traditional airplane with the exception that the front was folded over to form a blunt nose. He told me, "That's so that I don't poke anybody's eye out. Mrs. K doesn't like sharp things." He beamed with pride over his contributions to paper airplane engineering.
Andy was a little disconcerted that my plane had all of the folds neatly aligned. Of course, when the plane nose-dived into the floor on its maiden flight he instantly brightened. "No dad, you have to throw it like this." The plane leapt from his fingers and traced a gentle arc across the dining room and into the living room.
It was a strange moment for both of us, the reversal of our normal roles. Knowing him, I'm sure that it won't be the last time.
"Hey, can you teach me another one?"