Looking into my two year old’s lunar fascination.
At first, it was stars. Life in a frequently cloudy city makes it such that you don’t often see stars in the sky, and even on clear nights, certainly not many. But there was a time last fall when my son saw galaxies everywhere. Stars were every twinkling light in shops or on TV shows. They were in every picture book, although not really; often, he mistook images of snowflakes and snowfall for them, or insisted the sun was a star. Which, of course, he was right about — but when I’d explain that this particular star has a name and a different role for us than other stars, he was having none of it.
In fact, even now, he’s somewhat indifferent to the sun. But he knows about the stars. He’s learned about snow, even though he hasn’t seen much of it in real life. And the moon, well….
A few months after he picked up a star-shaped Christmas decoration and started singing “Ackle, ackle” (which we figured out was “Twinkle, twinkle”), he finally seemed to have stars straight. Over the past few weeks, he’s even started saying “star”, instead of “ackle ackle.” But by then, another celestial body had replaced them in his heart.
One evening a few days before his second birthday, we were walking to the grocery store when he suddenly looked up and said “Moon! Moon!” It was one of those times when you can see the moon before sunset. My son was delighted by the surprise.
By the time we left the grocery store, it was dark outside, and the moon now glowed brightly in the starless-seeming sky. As we made our way home, my son would ask me to stop his carriage now and then so that I could turn him towards the moon and he could stare up excitedly.
We could still see the moon in the sky when we came home. For my son, it was like a guest looking into our living room window. Every evening ever since — and most days, as well — he’ll stop sometimes and gaze into the sky and insistently say “Moon,” as if demanding its presence, or swearing he’d seen it there so many times before.
Like many toddlers in our era of constant-picture taking, my son doesn’t always love posing for a photo. But when I offered to take a picture of him with the moon, he eagerly stepped in front of my iPad. In the photo, he’s broadly grinning, the moon outside the window just a small point of light.
His passion for the moon doesn’t stop at the moon itself. Any round object, once compared to a ball or a wheel, is now often compared to it. Sometimes, maybe because he really misses the moon, he’ll even say it if I hand him a square-shaped cracker. I’ve started to call the little round sugar cookies he likes “moon cookies”, so that he knows what kind I mean. Now and then, I can convince him to forgo something sugary and snack on a rice cake instead, by telling him it looks like the moon. Without my lunar-obsessed son, I might never have thought of that. Now, when I buy a pack of what used to look like a rather dull thing to munch on, I feel like I’m just a little closer to outer space.
Some of my earliest memories are driving in my parents’ car at night, drowsy and gazing at the moon outside with worry. Why was it following us, I would wonder — and asked once. I think the question was followed by tears.
I’m not sure what, if anything, my early reaction to the moon means about the child I was, or the person I am. I’ve always been anxious, and I sometimes think that maybe that summed it up: My reaction to the unknown, even a beautiful, silent, constant like the moon, was concern, not curiosity, not acceptance or joy.
If this is true, hopefully it’s a sign that one of my biggest wishes as a parent has been granted: I didn’t pass on my ever-worried nature to my son. I want to think that the way he embraces the moon shows he’s at peace in the world — but also curious and ready, one day, to go forth and explore what moves him.
A few weeks ago, I decided to show him a video I’d put on for him when he was a lot younger, and that he hadn’t seemed to care for then: the Smashing Pumpkins’ “Tonight, Tonight”, which is a gorgeous, clever homage to Méliès’ famous film, Un voyage dans la lune (A Trip to the Moon). This time, I was right: My son loved it. As we watched the couple take a breath and leap from their airship to the moon below, I said, “Look: One, two, three, and JUMP! to the moon!”
The idea delighted him. On the way to daycare that afternoon, he kept chattering about it: “And…JUMP! Moon!” And when I picked him up later, after hours of play and singing and new discoveries, he got back in his carriage and said, “And…JUMP! Moon!”
Since then, the idea often comes back to him. A few days ago, I bought him a little toy bus he’d fallen in love with at a store (He also loves earthly things, especially any kind of vehicle). As I put on his diaper after his bath that afternoon, he picked up the bus from where he’d put it on his belly. “And…JUMP! Moon!”
I found myself grinning just as he had in his photo with the moon. I loved that what I’d shown him had made him so happy. I loved he’d created such a story. And I wished I could live in his world, and that he could keep it in his heart forever — a place where you can go so far with just a jump.