I'm a self-proclaimed nerd in the "scientific-developments-and-breakthroughs-blow-my-mind-because-they're-awesome!" kind of way. So when NASA confirmed that Voyager 1 became the first probe to leave the edges of our solar system and reach interstellar space today, I might have geeked out a bit. (Fun fact: The spacecraft has been traveling for 36 years at speeds over 38,000 mph and is currently over 18.7 billion Kilometers from the sun.)
Growing up, my physicist parents encouraged me to be curious about the world and to seek a deeper understanding of concepts beyond my grasp. We looked at constellations through a telescope set up on our driveway. On one occasion, we drove to the countryside to have a clearer view of a meteor shower. And I never missed a lunar eclipse as a kid because my parents would wake me up in the middle of the night to enjoy the spectacle.
While that hands-on approach to science and learning made a lasting impact, I also remember the fear I experienced after discovering how little we know about our environment. I felt like a teensy, tiny ant—or maybe something smaller, perhaps a grain of sand or speck of lint on my T-shirt—just drifting along in this big, expansive universe I would never fully understand. I asked: How far does space reach? What will happen if the sun loses it's heat? When my all-knowing parents gave me age-appropriate answers to some of these bigger questions about the world, I felt surprisingly vulnerable in my everyday life. That night, I sat in my Daddy's lap as he murmured words of comfort and cried myself to sleep.
For a child, it may be scary or frustrating to realize there are things you don't understand, and this realization can challenge a kid's sense of comfort and security. But I for one think it's worth testing these limits and stretching these bounds. By providing a safe space to jointly explore the world's greatest unknowns together, you can offer the support and reassurance she needs in her moment of uncertainty. Maybe tonight, take her outside to view the craters on the moon through a pair of ordinary binoculars and have a discussion about what she sees. After all, a child's natural sense of wonder must be nurtured in order to grow.
As an adult, these great unknowns fascinate (rather than terrify) me. But to this very day, I still rely on my father's support when trying to understand concepts beyond my grasp—just with fewer tears some twenty-something years later.
Image: Voyager spacecraft near Jupiter via Shutterstock by Elenarts