The Year of Lasts

by Nancy

In just a week, we’ll load up the car, drive to Atlanta, and enthusiastically dive into the myriad aspects of DragonCon as a family unit. A year from next week, we’ll load up the car, drive somewhere we don’t yet know, and take the boy to college, dividing our family unit as he steps into adulthood. In between, there’ll be a lot of “last” events for the three of us.

This is the first in a series of blogs about the transitions on the horizon.

I’ve been going to DragonCon regularly for quite a few years. I always knew the boy would love it. He’s like me in his devotion to imagination and fantasy and possibility, although his particular interests and mine don’t overlap much. Until a few years ago, however, the dh’s job didn’t allow him to come, and the boy was too young to set lose among 40,000 strangers on his own. So I went alone to volunteer in the excellent Writer Track GRW’s Nancy Knight directs and poke about in the other panels. Then the dh’s job changed, and we made DragonCon an annual family trip.

The boy took to it like the proverbial duck to water, as I’d expected. It’s not really the dh’s scene, all those people walking around in costumes and carrying mock (or real but peace-bonded) weapons. He says he goes in part for the YA lit and writer tracks and in part to watch the boy and me enjoy ourselves.

That first year, he or I walked the boy to whatever panels he wanted to attend and then met him afterward, but the next year, we cut him loose. Now he has buddies he joins at the con (short for convention), and we don’t see him much.

The fannish term for someone who’s not into fandom is “mundane.” The dh is a mundane and proud of it, but he’ll stand on the curb with me and watch the costumed contingents–super-heroes, Star Trek characters, pirates, ninjas, anime characters, Hogwarts students, Pernese dragonriders, elves, Stargate personnel, Jedi, Sith Lords, Stormtroopers (the 501st Legion always has a big turnout), Rebel Alliance and Imperial military, Dunedain, wizards, fairies, Spartans, Rohirrim, and pretty much any other kind of fantastic being you might imagine–march down Peachtree Street.

In the anime section next Saturday–for the last time–will be the boy and the two friends he met at DragonCon, one of whom became (and still is) his girlfriend. We’ll cheer and wave when they march by, and I’ll try to get a good photo. The boy has two costumes of anime characters he likes, and he alternates them during the con. I don’t yet know which one he’ll wear that day.

The people who roam in costume–cosplayers, they’re called–were a huge hit with him. We walked out of an exhibit hall one day that first year, and someone called out to him using the name of his character. When we turned toward the sound, there stood a group of people dressed as characters from the same show as he was. He joined them with a big grin on his face, and I proved how useful mothers could be by taking group photos with various cameras.

Taking photos of costumes is common at DragonCon. Asking to take one is a compliment, and people are usually happy to oblige. The boy met his girlfriend when she called out to stop him because she wanted to photograph his costume.

Another hit for us that first year was a demonstration, which the boy and I attended together, of bladed weaponry combat by the late Hank Reinhardt and his students. Hank had a dry, sarcastic wit that made people forget he was actually teaching them something, and he knew a very great deal about swords and their use.

I found his workshops extremely helpful for research. He was always willing to answer questions and let people handle any weapons he’d brought. That year marked his return to the con after a long absence. Unfortunately, he died not long after that. I’ve always been glad the boy and I shared that hour.

The con runs closed circuit television (DragonCon TV–yes, really) in all the hotels. Programming includes panels that were hard to get into, the costume contest, and whatever else the con staff wants to include. A staple is the programming segment known as bumpers–jokes that appear on the screen in dialogue format, humorous videos, etc. There are always new ones, and we all love them. Even the ones that really, truly, are groaners.

If you decide to try the link, scroll down until you get to “Regencies and Revenants” and watch that one. (And if you have a lot of time, click on the “bumpers” link on that page and indulge.) We enjoy starting and ending our days with humor. Even if it’s not all as clever as it wants to be, a lot of it is wicked smart.

So we’ll head to Atlanta next week, hurry from one panel or reading or demonstration to the next, roam the exhibit halls, amuse ourselves with DragonCon TV at bedtime and in the morning, and maybe even have the occasional meal together. On the surface, this con weekend will be like the ones before it, busy and fun and sometimes chaotic. But always hovering in some corner of my mind will be the knowledge that this is the last one, a moment especially important to savor before our fledgling flies.

What event kicked off a year of lasts for your family? What did you do (or wish you had done) to commemorate the occasion? What was a highlight of your last year in the nest?

Another package of three books from the RWA conference goes to one commenter.

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