Grow, Speed Racer!

Lately Harrison and I have been watching old Speed Racer episodes on DVD. It’s been nostalgic for me. I used to watch Speed Racer when I was five years old and living in Pennsylvania. If you are exactly the right age (i.e. my age to about 10 years younger than me) then you probably know that “Speed Racer” started life in Japan as a comic book and anime called “Mach Go Go Go“. The main character of the show (Racer, Speed) wore a helmet with a large “M” on the front. It was dubbed in English, renamed (fortunately), and released in the United States just 5 days before I was born. Despite my early exposure to television I didn’t actually watch Speed Racer as a newborn. That came later, as I watched it on UHF via a rooftop antenna (remember those?).

If you have ever watched the show then I am certain the Speed Racer Theme Song is now playing in your head (listen, it’s there) where it will continue for the next 12 hours or so. If not, please report for indoctrination. Sarah and Grace never watched Speed Racer but I have caught them both singing the theme music since HJ and I started watching the show.

This household interest in Speed Racer was very timely, because it happened about the same time that Sarah, Grandma, and I began to become impatient with Shepard. We realized a few weeks after Shepard was born that his head was not round. We’re still not sure if he came out that way and we just didn’t notice, or if it started to flatten after he was born. We are certain that it wasn’t the fault of improper “positioning” when he slept, as is true for most kids with flat spots. Every time we expressed concern to the pediatrician we got the standard speech about not letting him lay the same way every night. It turns out on kids three and four you begin to recognize when you’re getting a standard speech. Our other three kids’ heads turned out symmetrical – clearly there was something significantly different about Shepard.

We turned and propped and adjusted that kid for months, and although he might have been getting a little rounder (both above and below the neck) it just wasn’t happening fast enough for us. Viewing Shepard from above, it looked as if someone had pushed the whole left side of his head very slightly forward. His left ear and even his left forehead were a little closer to the front than their counterparts on the right. We were concerned he might get stuck that way.

The doctor was about to give us the positioning speech again but we got pushy. We’re Saline parents. We’re entitled. So we got a referal to an “orthotics” specialist to have Shepard fitted for a helmet. The helmet, we learned, is fitted to touch Shepard at the biggest parts of his head. Then, as his head grows, it is shaped as it grows into the round helmet in the same way a watermelon might grow to the shape of a box.

The fitting was extremely cute. Shepard was seated in a little chair with a white cap on his head that had lots of silver dots. He looked like he was playing astronaut. The Orthoticist (I totally just made up that title) then scanned his head. And by “scanned,” I don’t mean like in an MRI. I mean like at a supermarket checkout. She used a handheld scanner that noted the position of the silver dots on the cap and beeped every time it got a new reading. As she worked a crude 3D image of Shepard’s head appeared on the screen of an attached laptop. The whole time Shepard sat facing forward as if waiting for liftoff.

There were lots of choices of helmet color. We chose a nice neutral blue. I’m not sure when we started referring to Shepard as Speed Racer, but unfortunately it was after we chose the helmet. If he had picked up the nickname just a little sooner we would naturally have chosen a white helmet, onto which we could paint a big red “M”.

We’ll have to do that with the next kid (kidding! kidding!).

So Shepard is now known around here as Speed Racer, and Harrison as Rex Racer (or – spoiler alert! – “Racer X”).

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