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My wife, Sandy, and I were awarded mouse ears last weekend, which set me to wondering what airline pilots have to do to earn their wings.

What they have to do at a minimum, and among other requirements according to the Air Line Pilots Association, is log 1,500 flying hours, 500 of them cross-country and 75 instrument flying.And they must demonstrate to an examiner their ability to fly "under the complex situations applicable to airline-type flying."

Just as I suspected. Amateurs.

That's nothing compared to what it takes to earn your mouse ears.

Now, Sandy and I have both older and younger grandkids, scattered more or less coast to coast, but as chance would have it, it was Shelby, nigh 4 years old, who officiated at the ear ceremony.

She did this by bursting into the house - and believe me, bursting is the word - sporting Minnie Mouse ears of her own (you could tell by the polka-dot bow) and waving a pair of beanies with their famous Mickey Mouse ears.

She had returned from taking her parents to Disney World for a week, the first of the grandchildren to complete this arduous task, and had managed to bring both mom and dad back more or less intact, if somewhat frazzled.

After the Awarding of the Ears - each presentation accompanied by the succinct, traditional and eloquent "Here" - we were treated to a graduation speech delivered with an urgency and enthusiasm long absent from the weary valedictories of academe.

True, a critic might fault the recitation for a certain, to be kind, incoherence. The speaker's racing mind seemed at times to have lapped her articulation, leaving us befogged as to just which castle, ride, show or Disney character we were hearing about, and in what order.

But the essential, let us say, arc of the exegesis was clear enough. She had probed everything a going-on-4-year-old can when operating for five days at warp speed.

From the evidence of the autograph book that she sat between Sandy and me explaining, Shelby had run to ground and bagged Mickey and Minnie, Snow White, Cinderella, Merlin, Chip and Dale, the Fairy Godmother, Pocahontas, Goofy and a host of other critters and characters familiar to tykes these days more from videotapes than from movie screens.

And what did it take for Sandy and me to earn this boon?

Well, not 1,500 hours but 38 years of flying, counting from the birth of Shelby's mom. I don't know that I've put in 500 hours cross-country, but there's been a hellacious lot of back and forth in the deal. And 75 hours of instrument flying? That's nothing. Parents fly blind all the time.

I can't tell you just what examiner may have passed on us, but last Sunday did find Sandy and me, grown up to the point of near-superfluity, sitting in our living room wearing Mickey Mouse ears, and without any flinch of embarrassment.

That's as good a sign as I know of that we've demonstrated to someone's satisfaction our ability to operate under some pretty darn complex flying conditions.