Thank you for showing me Orion

Last week our family went to a “Forts by Flashlight” event at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. The Wildflower Center is a favorite weekend outing for us (we’re members). Our elder son can run around safely and it’s easy to push a stroller around or wear our younger son.

In the winter they have artists build different themed forts for children to play in. Some of them have tunnels, some have slides, one looks like a house of cards, it’s great. For this event, they opened up for a couple of hours after sunset and had the forts available to play in in the dark. We put a high-vis vest on our almost-three-year-old and gave him his toy flashlight to run around in the dark, me tagging along behind him with a maglite pointed at my feet set on the minimum setting.

After some hot cocoa, we headed to the exit with my elder son on my shoulders. I noticed the sky was clear that night, so I stepped away from the main path for a little bit and pointed out Orion, my favorite constellation since I was kid. Pointing at Orion's belt, I said, “It comes out in the winter and you find it by looking for those three stars in a row: one, two, three.” I turned around and pointed at the Big Dipper too, but of course, it doesn’t have as easy a trick to point it out.

Every night after we put our toddler to bed, he’ll wake up (seemingly after his first REM cycle) and find a parent to climb in bed with. I’ve been working on taking him back to bed and lying down with him, usually accompanied by some sadness on his part at not being allowed in bed with me.

Tonight, he woke up, found me, and said “Daddy” with no hint of distress in his voice. We did our usual routine of “Let's go back to your bed,” and walking him into his room. He stopped before the bed, stuffed tiger in his hand, and said a full sentence I couldn’t quite make out.

“What was that?”

“Thank you.”

“Oh, you’re welcome, but for what?” We climbed in bed. I usually try not to talk too much in the interest of calmly settling him back into sleep.

“Thank you for showing me the constellations. I like the contellations.”

“You’re welcome, I love that — I like the contellations too.”

“Thank you for showing me Orion. It has one,” his index finger held up to start counting, “two, three stars.”

We talked about Orion more for a second, I talked about how I could show him more contellations, how we could maybe get a book at the library about them, or find a show about them. My aunt-in-law gave a bit of advice before he was born, saying that it’s a chance to experience the world anew, through their eyes, as they discover things. It’s easy to forget that, and just as easy to remember and celebrate that when a tiny voice remembers something you told them and recounts it to you.

He smiled, nodded, closed his eyes, and fell asleep about ten minutes later, while I sat there with my hand on his back, full of emotion that he thanked me for showing him something I was interested in sharing.

We’re going to get some books on contellations this week.