March 1, 2011

We Teach Each Other

The other night Tristan and I did an impromptu raid on the local pizza establishment. Dad and Julius were gone and we sneaked out of the house under the cover of falling dusk and headed down to get something interesting to eat, just the two of us.

While we waited for our food to be ready, we played on the playground equipment. Tristan slid down the slide and climbed up the climbing wall. Over and over.  He begged me to slide with him, but I declined since generally slides never work out well for me.  I either go too fast and nearly fly over the side or I go to slow and have to do the undignified caterpillar-ass-wiggle to scoot down to the bottom.

Instead I stood at the top of the slide and gazed to the west at a strange light from behind the mountain silhouettes. I assumed it was the setting sun, but something wasn't right about it. High above it was a bright star, very clear, bold, huge. Tristan scrambled up over the edge of the climbing wall and I told him to look.

"Look at the pretty light, Tristan, and the star.  I think maybe that's Venus. Is it pretty?"

"I think that's Mars, Mommy."

My kids frequently whip out with these intelligent-sounding observations and it's hard for me to tell if they know what they are talking about or if they are just making stuff up because they do both.  Most of the time I just agree with them if I don't know the answer myself. I figure agreeing with them will give them additional self-confidence which seems to be in short supply with people these days. Or, if my mother is correct, it will make them boorish and egomaniacal. I spent a moment wondering which of those dysfunctions was easier to cure later in life.

"Mars? Well, maybe.  I really don't know.  I think that's a great observation and you could be right."

"Yes, I am right. Stars are really planets."

"Um, yeah. Okay." Now it starts to get annoying when people let science suck the romance out of your being in the moment. But he's four. What am I supposed to do?

Tristan takes off down the slide and I call my friend Ginny who is an astrophysicist turned archaeologist.

"Ginny, go look out the window to the west.  There is a weird light with a big fat star above it. What is that star?"

She indulges me, but claims she can't see it. This might be true or she might just be too lazy to get off the couch and leave the wine and chocolate. She claims it's too cloudy and then adds, "Stars are really planets, you know."

Thank goodness her plumber arrived just then so I didn't have the chance to explain how her science was sucking the romance out of my being in the moment.

Before we left the restaurant, Tristan conned me out of 75 cents for one of those little doo-dad machines that had tiny little plastic dogs in large plastic pop-open containers. Basically about half a cent worth of Chinese plastic that would kill him if he swallowed it.

He loved the little dog he got and asked me on the way to the car why the dog was in such a big container.

I shrugged. "I dunno. Maybe so it looks like you're getting something bigger for the money you are spending."

"Why do they do that?"

"So manufacturers can justify their greed and profit margins by creating the illusion that you're getting something substantial when you're not."

He thought about this for a minute while I buckled his car seat.

"So they are lying."

"Well, yeah, sort of. Pretty much." But then I felt bad about saying that because I'm simultaneously jaded about consumerism at the same time that I'm fascinated by it. "Maybe lying is not the best word for that. Exaggerating and misleading might be better words."

"They're lying."

I sighed. "Definitely it's prudent to be a savvy consumer and investigate all product claims. But, you know, if overpaying for a little plastic dog makes you happy and you're spending your money wisely in other ways, then it's probably okay, right?"

"I like my little dog."

"Me too. Ruff ruff!" Tristan laughed at his silly mother.

The strange light in the sky was gone by the time we got home, but I was curious about the star, sorry, planet we saw. It turned out to be Jupiter and that strange light was called a zodiacal light.  Fascinating.

If you keep your eyes and ears open you can learn something new and wonderful every day.


  1. I am pretty sure I said Venus was not a star...but you can misquote me. And I never was an astrophysicist! For Pete's sake.

  2. That Tristan...he's pretty smart.

  3. Ginny, this is what it's like being the victim of artistic license. You need friends who are not writers. :)

  4. You were very lucky! I bet we never get a chance to see zodiacal light over here in England - if nothing else, there's too much light pollution!

    Not all stars are planets, of course. Many of them are suns, just a very, very long way away.

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