Childrearing

Why My 4-Year-Old Stayed Up Late To Watch The Mars Curiosity Land

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Last night at 10:30pm, I would assume that most young children were cuddled in bed. They had probably been there for hours, snuggled in with their stuffed animals and blankets. Mine was cuddled up on the couch, also surrounded by giant plush, but wide awake. She was silently watching the Mars Curiosity and its “seven minutes of terror” landing.

My four-year-old has become pretty fascinated with space and astronauts lately. Like most women interested in space, the inspiration for her decision was the amazing Sally Ride. During the reporting of Ride’s death, my little girl saw a picture of the famed female astronaut on my computer. She asked who the woman was and started a long conversation about space, specifically the women who make it there.

And so, my daughter and I started researching female astronauts. We started looking at footage of flights to space. She sat in awe the first time I showed her someone walking on the moon. Then she spent an hour trying to understand why people have to “hop” when they’re in space. Turns out, gravity is a really difficult concept to explain to a pre-schooler. Really, the difference between mass and weight is hard for plenty of adults to grasp. Needless to say, I’m still working on a project to get the idea across.

Through all of it, my little girl began to get genuinely excited about the idea of exploring the galaxy. We started talking about the planets and how humans can see them. Her favorite planet at the moment is Saturn, in case you’re wondering. There’s something about those rings. We pulled out an old telescope and had a few viewing sessions in the back yard after sunset. My daughter giggles at the idea of staying up late and we cuddle up on the porch and just talk about the stars.

So with all of her space excitement, how could I not talk to her about Mars Curiosity and it’s exciting new journey? How could I not let her stay up and experience that thrill of hearing “Touchdown confirmed,” said by Al Chen, a Jet Propulsion Laboratory engineer?

Sure, I could have DVRed the experience. We could have watched it this morning, or tonight when she gets home from daycare. Those were options I had. But I decided that one night up late just wasn’t a big deal in the grand scheme of things. In fact, staying up and cuddling mom while we watched the live coverage made the event even more special. It made the Mars Curiosity that much more exciting for her.

So often when children are interested in something, we have a tendency to infantilize it. We dumb it down. We assume that kids won’t be interested if they can’t understand every part of it. My daughter’s burgeoning interest in space showed me why that tendency is so unnecessary. Kids want to see how the real world works. My daughter wanted to see more than just the children’s book version. She loved watching the real thing, asking questions that her mom may or may not have had the answer to. But we learned about it together.

My little girl is a bit sleepy this morning. She might even be cranky. She’ll surely need an afternoon nap. But I think that this was one of the times it was worth it. Seeing her cheer that rover on, seeing her huge smile still plastered on her face when she finally made it to bed, that was proof I needed that sometimes kids can get excited about rather adult things.

(Photo: greenland/Shutterstock)