Raising young children inevitably involves a phase or phases during which parents do their best to comfort their kids about the monsters under the bed, the ghosts in the closet, and the things that go bump in the night. Delicate attempts are made to convince young sons and daughters of the unreality of these things, followed by explanations that assure the monster under the bed is just a pair of slippers; the closet ghosts, merely hanging clothes; and the bump in the night, simply the furnace clicking on. When children are very young, parents also strive to shield them from disturbing images and scenes on television and the internet. If our kids happen to inadvertently catch a glimpse of Freddy Krueger or Godzilla, we, as parents, tell them about actors and masks and computer animation in the hope that this dissolves some of the shock.
Fortunately, bogeymen and night monsters have never really frightened my son. In fact, I cannot recall a single instance where I had to console him regarding these things. Though my boy seems immune to the conventional creatures that terrify children, he is not immune to fear. So what scares my seven-year-old these days? Colliding galaxies, that’s what.
While other parents rush to switch the television channel or close a web browser after some scary monster or violent scene inadvertently appears on the screen, I feel the urge to jump out of my chair every time an astronomy or space program comes on. My son’s fascination with space-related themes began innocently enough with cartoon songs about the sun and the solar system, but after he turned four, he moved up to watching full-length documentaries about space and the universe. I know for certain he did not understand the content of these shows, but he seemed to find the visuals engaging, so I let him watch them with me whenever they happen to pop up on T.V. or online.
After my son turned five, I noticed he was beginning to comprehend the content of these documentaries. One day we watched a program about asteroids and meteor collisions. My son spent the next two months asking about the possibility of a meteor obliterating Earth, and whenever he stepped out of the house, I noticed he cast apprehensive glances up at the sky.
Following the viewing of a program describing black holes, my son became convinced one would materialize in the corner of his bedroom and suck him over its event horizon where he would then be ruthlessly spaghettified. Recently, we happen to view a program that focused on the eventual collision of the Milky Way and Andromeda Galaxies 3.75 billion years from now. His reaction to this news was one of defiant disbelief and existential indignation. “That will never happen,” he still grumbles occasionally whenever he ponders the matter. Inevitably, he looks at me and adds, “Why would God let that happen?”
I must admit, coming up with reassuring and meaningful answers to some of his questions regarding the mysteries of the universe stretches my cognitive abilities to their absolute limits. Sadly, I have learned that lightly dismissing my son's concerns by citing the time frame involved in events like galaxy collisions does little to assuage him, and I am left scrambling to find answers for things that are, quite frankly, beyond my own limited scope of comprehension.
I am almost certain my son’s current fixation on planetary collisions, supernovas, black holes, asteroid impacts, and wormholes is merely a phase. If not, I comfort myself with the notion that I may have a budding astrophysicist in the house. Regardless, I must confess there are moments I wish some imaginary monster did lurk under my son's bed. That sort of thing would be much simpler to address than the stellar phenomena that strike wonder, dread, and awe in him now.