Day 20: Middle-of-the-Night Meteor Shower

meteor shower

When I read in the news yesterday that the broken remains of Halley’s Comet would create a fantastic meteor shower in the middle of the night, I knew that would be the thing to do with J.

The paper said that peak viewing would be at 3am PST.  I set my alarm for 2am, snuck into J’s room, and after much prodding, woke him up for the show.  We grabbed a warm blanket and slipped out into the cool night.  He had never seen a shooting star.  We hadn’t even lied down on the sidewalk before each of us spotted our own meteors.  Two blazing trails drawn in the heavens.

He whispered, “I saw one!!  It was like a line across the sky!”

Laying in the chilly air in front of our house, I said, “Too bad we aren’t in Alpine.”  (Grandma & Grandpa have a cabin in the thick woods there.)

“Why?”

“Because you can see a lot more stars when the city lights are far away.”  Even the streetlights nearby were making it difficult to see, so I asked if he wanted to hop in the van and drive somewhere with less lights.

Dad and I always complain that we live and raise our kids in the suburbs: the culture-less hub of Applebee’s and the Dreaded Mall.  Yes, the suburbs have advantages for kids, such as less street crime.  But last night brought about an unforeseen benefit: being so far away from the center of the city, it only took five minutes to drive to near-darkness.

We pulled into a more rural neighborhood on the edge of the desert and parked the van on a dark section of street.  We hadn’t gotten out of the car yet when two more meteors drew streaks across the skyline.  The attempt to sit on the hood failed: it was so steep we kept sliding off.  I was happy half-laying/ half-standing against the hood, but J was cold and preferred the inside of the van.

As soon as we stood up, J whispered, “Whoa!  Did you see that huge bird swoop down?”  I held in my freaked-out squeals and discreetly rushed us into the van.  Sometimes moms have to maintain a poker face when instinct calls on other, more ridiculous options.  Spotting wolf spiders, for example, are moments that bring the virtue of self-control to a whole new level. Though I have not heard of many victims of owl attacks, I would be The One. (Addendum: I would be The Third.)

In the sanctuary of our warm van, we looked head-on into outer space.  Foxnews.com described it as being on “the patch of Earth that is barreling headlong into space on Earth’s orbital track, and the meteors get scooped up like bugs on a windshield.” It was real life Star Tours, but the stationary vehicle was my mini-van.

In this magical setting, J blew me away with his young mind.  I said, “You see that extra twinkly star over there?  That’s not a star.  It’s a planet.”

Thoughtfully, J said, “There used to be hundreds of planets.”

“What happened?”

“What happened?  I guess what happened to Pluto.  Pluto used to be a planet, right?  Then scientists found out that it would be crazy to call it a planet.  It doesn’t even orbit the way other planets do!”

He said he thought of something else we could do: look for constellations.  Immediately he pointed and said, “Those look like a belt.”  He also pointed out the Little Dipper and the Big Dipper.  I had never seen the Big Dipper so close to the horizon.  Talk about a sense of reality!  The trusty Big Dipper “moved” to a foreign location.  Such a paradigm shift that we are ever-moving and so, so small.

After the show began to die down, I decided it was time to head home.  In the car I confirmed, “So this was the first time you saw a shooting star?”

“Yeah.  It was also the first time I’ve seen the Big Dipper or any constellation before.”

“You mean you pointed all those out without ever having seen them first?!”

“Yeah.”

I was mystified last night by two things:

1. The magnificently vast universe and how we are but fleeting passengers along for the cosmic ride.

2. That the mysteries inside of J are no less magnificent, no less of  a magic revealed to me in small increments.  And even as a mom, I am along for the cosmic ride.

Day 20 Stats: Meteor Shower, 2am, 1 hour, everyone asleep, swooping owls, fiery streaks, paradigm shifts, magical moments, secrets stored away in my mother’s heart.

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5 Comments

Filed under Science

5 responses to “Day 20: Middle-of-the-Night Meteor Shower

  1. Melissa Reed

    I love that middle of the night excursion. Speaking of Star Tours (which still makes me carsick just thinking back), I was telling a friend that the last 3D movie I went to see was Michael Jackson’s Bad video at Disneyland when I was too little to know that crotch grabbing was scandalous way back when.

  2. This was beautifully written and what a magical experience for both of you!

  3. Nancy Waller

    Denise, I am so proud of you. You are a beautiful person, mom and wife. This operation play is so cool. The bond you and J have will be forever.

  4. Nancy Waller

    I have enjoyed reading about your operation play. What the two of you just shared together was so cool.

  5. Savannah

    Fantastic entry!!! He’ll be telling his own grandchildren about that night with his Mom under the stars…

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