On Stargazing with Children
By Kimberly Misra
Web Exclusive, October 30, 2006
Marceline Cox once said, "Parents are so busy with the physical rearing of children that they miss the glory of parenthood, just as the grandeur of the trees is lost when raking leaves."
I have always loved this quote, but the truth of it didn't really hit home for me until a recent vacation with my family. We were staying in a rustic state park cabin with a woodstove for heat and no private bathroom. It was early October and quite cold—much colder than I had expected it to be. We were out and about during the day but as it got closer to dinnertime we took to the cabin and its relative warmth. Except for trips to the bathroom. Those seemingly endless jaunts up the hill in the cold (and dark!) were my daughter Ellie's favorite part of this "semi-camping" trip.
The bathroom was probably a two-minute (adult time) walk, but with a two year old in tow, it easily stretched to ten minutes. Every time I had to go over she wanted to come, so I would bundle her up, bundle myself up, and we'd set off. We usually made good time out of the driveway but after that our pace slowed considerably. After all, the road was full of potholes to step in, chipmunks to observe and acorns that begged to be placed carefully in our pockets. Now, normally, I try to be relaxed about these types of things, but when you've got to go, you've got to go. And it was cold! So I frequently tried to hustle Ellie along, and for the most part, she cooperated with my hurrying.
On our last night of vacation I was heading over to the showers. Ellie, of course, wanted to join me. It was even colder than the previous nights had been and we'd had the woodstove in the cabin going for hours already. The bathrooms were positively frigid, so I rushed through our bedtime routine, brushed Ellie's teeth, and wrapped my wet hair up in a towel. Then I shooed Ellie out the door into the bitter cold to begin our journey back to the warm cabin. I set off quickly up the dark road, my thoughts focused on putting the kids in their pajamas, getting my son to sleep, reading Ellie her bedtime stories... the physical rearing of children you might say. Suddenly, I noticed there was no pitter-patter of little feet behind me. I stopped walking. The world was eerily silent. Not even the smallest sound could be heard. I turned around.
There was my daughter, standing perfectly still in the middle of the path, staring up at the sky. I started to feel irritated. I just wanted to get inside, I was exhausted, my hair was wet, and it was so cold. Ellie pointed to the darkening sky with one mitten clad hand. "Look Mommy! Stars!" I looked up and sure enough, two stars had just come out, little pinpoints of light nearly lost in the mostly cloudy sky.
As I stood next to my daughter and gazed up at the sky, I felt a rush of guilt. Of course this was exciting for her, at home she was usually asleep by the time the stars came out. I had never once thought to deviate from our usual evening routine of dinner, bath, and bed to show my child the stars.
I realized, at that moment, what the "glory of parenthood" was all about. Little things like this, which were really not so little. I was there the first time my child experienced the stars, and I was able to share in her wonder and relive that excitement myself by seeing it through her eyes.
As we finally headed back to the cabin (and warmth, thank goodness!), I made a promise to myself that we would visit the stars more often, my daughter and I. Because when you look up at a sky filled with stars, it puts everything in perspective the way nothing else can. The sense of awe, of mystery, of your own insignificance in the grand scheme of things that you get from looking at the night sky is priceless. Petty problems and frustrations, all those little annoyances of parenthood seem to fade away, at least for a while. It reminds me of one other time when I really felt the glory of parenthood; right after my children's births, when I looked at them and realized that my husband and I were the people entrusted to raise this little life, to protect it, to nurture it and eventually to set it free. The connection I felt to the universe then, to the grand scheme of things, is very similar to the feeling I get when we stargaze. I highly recommend it to any parent. Take your children stargazing. Discover the glory of parenthood.
Kimberly Misra is now the mother of three children, ages five, three, and one. She lives with her husband Christopher in Western Massachusetts. Her daughter Ellie still loves the stars, but now she too complains about the cold!