I am sitting in one corner of my family room late at night, my laptop filling my view while the sounds of a quieting house surround me—I can hear the soft chatter of young adults who don’t want to be reminded how late it is, who don’t want to think about the necessities of work and school and bed just yet. I can hear the click of doors being locked and lights being turned off, the soft hum of music in another room. I can hear the silence beginning to settle around me, when suddenly a reminder pops up in one corner of my screen, something I had typed earlier in the morning, when the early spring day was new and bright and there was plenty of energy left, and fewer deadlines looming, and more time to consider the wonders of an unplanned hour.
Lyrid Meteor shower—in all caps. A reminder that I had planned to try to catch a glimpse of the star pricked sky and the possibility of brief bright lights streaking across it in a late night light show. And suddenly in that moment it is ten years earlier, on another night, during another meteor shower, on a night when my children were younger, and we packed into the car, two girls, two boys, one dog, five or six blankets, three flashlights, and one pink umbrella that my daughter deemed necessary to successful stargazing.
We headed to the canyon near our house which boasted several parks just high enough on the mountain to get above the clouds. We piled out of the car at the first park, one with plenty of lighted paths, and a few dark corners here and there for the determined adventurer. Staking out our space between two pavilions complete with grills and picnic tables, we used the pink umbrella to block out an inconvenient security light and settled in to let our eyes get used to the dark. After arranging and rearranging blankets, separating squabbling siblings and finally turning off the flashlights we lay back to enjoy the view when we began to hear an ominous sound. With a soft and sibilant hiss the sprinklers around us started to sputter and spit, and we flew back to the car in a mad scramble of damp blankets with shoes dangling from our hands and flashlights swinging in wide crazy arcs across the pavement as we ran.
I did not think my children would be like this. Eager. Excited. Enthusiastic—and utterly delightful. To be honest I am not sure I contemplated the existence of my children at all before they made their individual appearances, four tiny babies in five years coming girl, girl, boy, boy, like matched sets bookending my idea of the perfect family. At least I did not think of them as anything other than an abstract idea, a ghost of an image in the folder labeled ‘future plans.’ But the children they were then, and the adults they are now remind me to slow down and take an hour—to wander outside into the dark, to ignore the clock that keeps ticking, to revel in the wonder and amazement of their lives forever intertwined with mine, with my husband’s, to be careful of the memories we make.
That night is vivid in my mind. The combined weight of the five of us dragged the blankets down the slight slope of the lawn, until we rested, sprawled together in a tangle of limbs and hair and shoes and blankets. I remember my son poking his sister. “Move over, you’re too big!” he said with the tact of a ten year old, something that has not changed much since.
“Mom, he’s touching me” She turned and poked him back.
The older of the boys was transfixed with the night sky, as well as his oldest sister.
“Oh, oh!” his hand traced a silvery trail through the sky. “Did you see that?” They quieted down as everyone got comfortable, the youngest and the oldest snuggled into my sides.
“What makes the stars?” one of them asked, and we were off, discussing the phenomenon of dust and particles and velocity and altitude, asking questions, offering theories, my own as wild and unsure as the rest.
My younger daughter had a unique way of missing every meteor, looking the other way as each one streaked across the sky, quickly startling as we pointed them out, but never quite glimpsing the light as it escaped from the dark reaches of the sky and burned out in a moment. She was there for the company more than the meteors, the experience more than the moment. She turned to ask a question just as the sky burned bright right where she had been looking; she rubbed her eyes, turned over to arrange the blanket, rolled to the side and poked her brother, each time missing in her abstraction or distraction or just in her action the celestial showpiece occurring above her head.
Never was time so deliciously irrelevant than in those late night moments with the four of them snuggled around me, and as I lose myself in the memory I find myself beginning to weep—something my kids will tell you is a regular occurrence, for I cry all the time, at sad movies, at happy movies, at good books—and at reminders that the children who once ran ahead of me on adventures, dragging me along by the hand, are now perfectly content to leave me behind, and although I know that this is the age old dance of mothers and children—that this is the natural way of things, and I am proud of the strong and independent people they are becoming, I stop, close my computer, and beckon them into the night with me—to see if we can pause, once again, to listen to the narration of the universe in motion.