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Science Mom: Experiencing a Shower...in the Driveway

Perseids meteor from 2007
A Perseid meteor striking in 2007. Source: Wikipedia, Mila Zinkova

I read about the Perseid meteor shower in the newspaper the morning of August 12—the day the annual meteor shower was predicted to peak. The Science Mom in me flagged the event, but even so, I thought to myself, "I'm not sure I want the kids to miss their bedtime again."

Over the summer, it is so easy to not enforce bedtimes, and I have lately fallen into the sliding bedtime trap, the kids growing crankier by the day as they get less and less sleep. (Possible science experiment: is it my imagination or is it true that most kids wake up at pretty much the same time regardless of when they went to bed?)

I didn't think about the meteor shower again until dark had fallen. Just as I was trying to muster up the will to enforce bedtime, I heard my husband suggest to the kids, "Hey, let's go outside and look for shooting stars."

The cat out of the bag, the kids started begging me to stop working (filling out mountains of school registration forms) and come outside. I said the familiar "be there in a minute." Many minutes later, my daughter came running in the house, full of excitement. "Mommy, Mommy, you have to come out NOW. We just saw a meteor!" How can you say no to that?

Putting the school forms aside, I grabbed some blankets (welcome reinforcements) and headed out to the best spot on our property for a good view of the Eastern sky without tree interference: our driveway. The four of us laid together in our driveway, staring up into the moonless, clear night sky. It was a very peaceful family moment.

As we lay there gazing at the stars, my husband explained what he knew about the meter shower. He didn't mention that it is called the Perseid meteor shower or that it comes every August as Earth passes through the tail of the Swift-Tuttle comet. I didn't offer that information either. Instead, we quietly gazed up at the sky, waiting and waiting. Dad explained what a meteor is. I pointed out the Milky Way. My son asked, "Why do they call it milky?" My daughter answered, "Look at it. See how the sky looks milky there? That's why."

I thought to myself, "Wow, this is worth the ignored bedtime." There we were together as a family, gazing up at the stars. No tickets, no travel, no planning. Just a couple of sleeping bags, a clear night, and the possibility of something spectacular.

When my son announced that he was tired and wanted to go to bed, I escorted him in, leaving my husband and daughter to wait for more meteors. I hadn't seen any, but I was too tired to go back out after my son was in bed. In the morning, the report was excellent: dad and daughter bonded while sharing the sight of half a dozen decent meteors!

~ Courtney, "Science Mom"


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