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The Checklist

I post today to honor my flying father-in-law who recently suffered a heart attack while prepping his aerobatics plane for flight.  He is recovering nicely, thank you, and we are grateful that “feeling right” was one of the checklist items last Saturday.  This comes from an old file, as you can see.


I learned about checklists from my father-in-law.  He is a retired commercial pilot who now occasionally ferries grandchildren or daughters-in-law in his four-seater Cessna.  So I wasn’t surprised on one visit with the in-laws to learn that we would be traveling from the lake house back to town by way of Cessna–estimated time of departure: 10:30.  I mentally subtracted the twenty minutes necessary to get to the airstrip, took off another ten minutes just to be sure, and decided that leaving the house at 10:00 gave me plenty of time to do a load of baby laundry.  In went the clothes, down went the baby for a nap, and out to the deck went this mom with a relaxing cup of coffee in hand.  About the time the clothes were soaked and soaped, my father-in-law poked his head out the door, grinned, and cheerily asked, “Ready to roll?”

Roll!  With a sleeping baby, a half full cup of coffee, and a soaking load of laundry?  My polite astonishment made no dent in his determination.  What happened to all that time I had?  Gone to the necessity of The Checklist.  Lift off might be at 10:30, but the hour beforehand must be dedicated to making sure the plane is ready to fly.  Nothing to do but toss the coffee, find a plastic bag, and wake the baby.  I wanted to be annoyed but at the same time it all made perfect sense.  Who would want to fly with a pilot who didn’t make sure all was ready before the wheels left the ground.  Not I!  And I surely wouldn’t put my children in such a pilot’s care.

So I excuse my own checklist mentality as that of a pilot of a different sort.

Every morning I mentally cross things off as I get myself and my four boys out the door.  Three boys wakened.  Check.  Two dressed.  Check.  Two, no three, now breakfasted.  Check.  Three pairs of shoes on.  Che–  Ah, the baby’s awake.  Diaper changed.  Check.  My bag.  My coffee.  Cell phone.  Keys.  Where are my keys?  ANYBODY SEEN MY KEYS!?!  Keys.  Check.  Three book bags.  One Bun Bun to hug.  Back door locked.  Triple check.  Two buckle themselves.  No, make that three–Strike one buckle job off the list.  Baby buckled in car seat.  Mom buckled in driver’s seat.  Check.  Check. Check.

It’s time to pause.  This pilot turns to the crew.  Does everyone have what he needs?  Is everyone warm?  Is everyone safe?  Is everyone happy?

Four pairs of boys’ eyes look back at me.  “You are in charge,” they say.  “Do you think it is okay for us to go?”

I make four checks on my list.  Everyone is taken care of.  Okay, boys.  Let’s fly!

As I drive them to school, the checklists of the future loom large in my mind.  Three are already safe on two-wheelers; one is learning to push his scooter.  Two can read; one is learning letter sounds; one can’t quite talk yet.  One is looking at girls; one is noticing them; one still hates pink; one doesn’t even know he’s a boy.  Soon one will drive.  Then there is college and work and marriage and a new set of children.

Twenty years from now, I’ll look again as these same four pairs of eyes–all the babyness and boyness gone, the lashes darkened, beard shadows showing–and I will go through the list again.  Do you have what you need?  Are you warm?  Are you safe?  Are  you happy?

And this pilot’s prayer is that once again I’ll make four checks on my list and that they’ll say to me, “Hand over the checklist, Mom.  We’re pilots on our own now.  It’s time for us to fly.”



1 comment to The Checklist

  • Alice Powe

    And how beautifully they HAVE flown. I’m sorry to hear about Joe. I know that had to be scary for him as well as all th Haycrafts. I hope he is recovering well and will be in the skys again soon.

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