When You Share Experiences with a Kid, You Remember How Awesome the World Can Be

My seven-year-old daughter normally comes home from school very excited about the goings-on of each particular day (and, at this point in her life, excited is one of her default states). But one day last month, the timbre of excitement was slightly different.

“Mom!” she said. “There’s going to be an eclipse on January 20th! We need to see it!”

“Oh,” I replied. “We’ll see how it works out.” (Translation from parent-speak: “That sounds interesting, but there are a lot of things that make it kind of complicated. Also, I don’t know if you’ll be as excited about it when the time comes, so . . .”) As the days passed, however, her excitement grew to the point of independently adding it to calendars. It was on. She really wanted this. It was time to get the timing and details—much as vague excitement is one of my kiddo’s default states, researching things to death is one of mine.

It was almost as if the various variables surround the eclipse were lined up as neatly as if it were a plot contrivance. The weather forecast was calling for clear skies. The times when the eclipse would start and when it would reach totality were both later than ideal, but not so late it was out of the question. The following day was a school holiday. There were no scheduled events that would complicate viewing. It was nearly perfect.

The start of the eclipse. Photos by Rae Black

So, we did it. Her father and I concocted a plan that had her going to bed a little earlier than usual with the promise that when it was time, we would wake her up for the event. True to our word, I roused her just as the formerly full moon had been reduced to a crescent. In the meantime, he had found the moon with her slightly-nicer-than-toy (but not by much) telescope so she could get a better view from inside our house. I tried to show her the view I could get using the long lens on my camera, but the lack of tripod made sharing hard.

All the warmest astronomers work indoors in pajamas. Photos by Rae Black

The three of us watched from inside, gazing up at the shrinking sliver of light reflected by the moon until just as it hit totality. At that point, it was so high in the sky that the window above our front door failed us and, clad in our pajama bottoms and warm winter coats, the three of us ducked outside. That’s when the true magic began.

I’ve occasionally bemoaned not having more streetlights on our block. Not this night. The dark, silent neighborhood gave a perfect platform to let us see the moon’s reddish-brown costume (not pictured). Together, we gazed. We talked about the science and, when we finally needed a break from the moon, showed the kidlet the various constellations we could easily see from our driveway. (Orion and the Pleiades—she requested the dippers, but we couldn’t see them due to lights and obstructive trees.) We talked about how we needed to take her out to the country, so she could look up and really see how many stars you can view from Earth.

Eventually the nearly zero-degree weather got to us, and after taking a few last long looks at the moon, we headed back inside and got the kiddo tucked back in bed. The late hour must have caught up with her, because there was no complaint. I could tell from the contented look in her eyes, though, that no matter how tired she might be the next day, letting her watch had been the right decision.

Near totality. Photos by Rae Black

I know I’ve seen other lunar eclipses, but I don’t know whether I’ve ever experienced one the same way I did that night. The thing about parenting is that you get to re-experience things through your children—and I don’t mean by forcing them to try and live out your failed dreams. (Please don’t do that. Let them be their own person with their own dreams.) When it comes to the world, oftentimes knowing the theory behind something can reduce your ability to feel wonder and awe. Experiencing a phenomenon with someone who still has a bit of innocence allows you to think about all of the science you know that explains how but also allows you to look at it with a feeling of wow and think, “Tycho Brahe’s ghost! Sometimes this world is amazing.”

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