Nathaniel’s Version of the Greek Myth of Andromeda and Perseus, late three-years-old (January 2011):

 

Andromeda woke up and the people who were mean and jealous with her sent her to be chained to a rock in the ocean to get eaten by a sea monster.  She screamed a lot but no one could hear her.  Perseus heard her and he called her on his cell phone and said, “I heard you and will help you.”  First he threw a missile at the sea monster.  He got a sword and his fire thing and he killed the monster.  He hit the sea monster in the butt and he said “ow” and died.

 

I’m a natural late-nighter and daytime napper (which, by the way, is a perfect schedule if you are raising a toddler), and I often stay up until 2 or 3 in the morning and make up for the lost sleep with a late afternoon or early evening nap, usually when Nate takes his nap.  Throw in some insane work stress, mix in a sick kid, and blow it all up with a separation and divorce, and, on nights I didn’t have Nate, I often found myself walking the neighborhood at midnight or two a.m., just walking with my iPod, trying to sort out the sorry mess that was my life.  At some point one clear, moonless night, I looked up.  Holy shit.  There were thousands of stars up there, and they were beautiful.  I stood in a park and turned in slow circles just awestruck by the beauty of the lights, the patterns in the sky, while REM and Bob Marley took turns pounding my overworked brain into submission.

That night I bought a beginning astronomy book on Amazon.  I discovered that with the book for background and my Google Sky smart phone app, I could pretty much figure out any object in the sky.  I spent a few months learning as many stars and constellations as I could find, and my late night walks turned into geeky, educational, occasionally awe-inspiring strolls, with me standing at various points around the neighborhood with my Droid held high while the cars rolled by slowly, the drivers staring at the freak with the phone pointed at the sky.  Pretty soon I started pointing out stars to Nate and telling him stories about the constellations.  About the same time, his mom, D, took him to see the “Hubble” IMAX movie, which has awesome footage of galaxies and curiously colored deep space objects, and suddenly he was seriously hooked on the stars.  I bought him a bunch of star books like “Once Upon a Starry Night,” and “Zoo in the Sky.”  He got pretty good and identifying constellations and loved pointing out Orion and the Big Dipper to anyone within earshot.  Of course, he was (and still is) petrified of the dark, so most of our real stargazing was done on the short dash from the parking space to the condo or standing in a restaurant parking lot after dinner.

Pretty soon, I ran out of “baby” star books and we graduated to stories about the myths and legends around the constellations.  The kid loved them, the gorier the better.  Hell, when Hercules couldn’t shoot Leo with arrows and needed to kill him with his bare hands and then wear the hide, we had to go over that part twenty times.  Scorpius stinging Orion the Hunter with his deadly stinger?  Awesome!  I had to work my way carefully around some of the more delicate parts of the Greek legends, the rapes, patricides, and matricides, but mostly he just had fun learning and asking questions.

A few months before Nate’s fourth birthday, I took him to Waikiki for a week, in part to celebrate a relatively healthy year (as in only one procedure and only two admissions) since his last major heart surgery, and in part because I just wanted to have some fun time with him by myself, without having to swap the kid every other day with D.  I stepped out onto our hotel room balcony at 5 a.m. on our first morning there, totally thrown off by the time change, and probably sneaking a cigarette while the boy slept.  I looked out over the horizon.  Huh?  What the hell were those strange constellations over the ocean?  I chucked my cigarette over the balcony, grabbed my Droid from the room, and quickly realized that I was seeing Southern Hemisphere constellations.  I looked in the room at my peacefully passed-out little guy.  Shit.  Should I wake him?  I brushed by teeth, washed my hands and face.  Ah, what the hell.  I crouched over him, kissed his head.  “Hey buddy, guess what?”  I whispered.

He looked up at me.  “What, daddy?”

“Hey, I just saw some cool stars outside that we can’t see from home.  Do you want to sleep or do you want to see some cool new stars?”

“You saw some cool stars?  Outside?”

“Yeah, you can see them from the balcony.  We don’t even have to go outside”

“Stars?  Which stars?”

“Well, I just saw the Southern Cross and Ophiuchus.  And maybe part of Lyra.”

Nate jumped out of bed like it was Christmas morning.  “You saw the Soudren Cross?  You can see the Sudren Cross from here?”

“Sure can.”  I was laughing at his boyish joy.

“I want to see.  Can I see?”

We stepped outside, me in my boxers and he in his pajamas.  I held him and showed him the new constellations.  They were all new stars, not just the Southern hemisphere constellations, since we had only seen 9 p.m. or 10 p.m. constellations before, never the early morning stars.  Nate squiggled, asked to be put down, then ran back inside and grabbed one of his star books.  He started flipping pages.

“Hey daddy, look, it’s Ophiucus.  And the Sudren Cross.  And we can never see them from our house, right?”

“Yeah buddy, this is special.  We must be just catching the very edge of the southern constellations.”

We watched the stars and played on the balcony for a while.  I needed coffee and the coffee shop downstairs opened at six.  But I couldn’t leave him alone in the room.  Or could I?  Nah.

“Hey buddy, you want a hot chocolate and a donut on the beach?  I need a cup of coffee.”

“The beach?  But it’s dark outside.”

“Yeah, but the sun’s coming up.  See it’s already getting light.”  I pointed to Saturn, or maybe it was Venus, I forget, the brightest thing left in the sky.  “We can play on the beach and watch Saturn go to India and Australia and watch the sun come up, just you and me, okay?”

“Okay daddy.  Do they have a Starbucks here?  I want a pink mini-donut, okay?  And a kid’s hot chocolate.  And can I take my Airborne Ranger monster truck to the beach?”

“Deal.  Now let’s get dressed.”

He placed his regular order at the Starbucks counter and I placed mine.  We took our drinks out to the seawall on the beach.  We were the only people out this early.  It was warm and humid, our shorts and long-sleeve tee-shirts perfect for the early morning.  Nate sat on my lap and sipped his hot chocolate.  I held him close with one arm, drank my coffee, and was happy.  Saturn (or maybe Venus) was just fading away.  We watched the edges of the faraway black clouds turn pink.  Nate wiggled off my lap.

“Can I play with my monster trucks?”

“Sure, you have the whole beach to yourself.”

He crawled around, playing with Airborne Ranger and Terminator and building ramps and jumps in the sand while the sun rose behind him.  I watched from the wall.  He looked up and saw me watching him.

“Daddy, are you happy?” he asked.

“Yeah buddy, I’m happy.  I’m very, very happy.  I’m happy we get to hang out and play on the beach and see all the stars.  I’m happy just to be with you.”

“I’m happy too Daddy.”

Nate took every chance he had that day to tell every stranger he ran into that he saw the Sudren Cross, Ophiucus (surprisingly, he had no trouble pronouncing that one), and Lyra that morning.  Actually I think it was Argo we saw, not Lyra, but, as proud as he was of himself and as genuinely happy as he was to have seen the southern stars, I wasn’t about to correct him.  That night, I hooked up my computer (for a mere $23 a day, glad to see that Paris Hilton is still making a few bucks), started Skype, and got D on the computer.  Nate was jumping with excitement, and spent several minutes waving his hands in the air and yelling about the awesome stars he had seen that morning.  “I want to come here every weekend with daddy,” he said, “so we can see all the cool stars here.”  There was a long pause, and from three thousand miles away I heard a restrained grunt from D.  Across the room, out of the picture, and out of audio range (I hope), I chuckled to myself.  Yep little buddy, I too want to come here with you every weekend for the rest of my life, or yours, whichever comes first, hopefully mine.  And Paris Hilton will be thrilled and I will be broke in two months, but I don’t care.  I love it here, I love having you to myself every minute of the day, I love watching you play with your trucks when the sun comes up on the beach, I love your shrieks as you race down the water-slides and splash into my arms, I love the late night walks on the beach on the way back from dinner, running through the waves and not caring that we get our good dinner pants soaked, I love the awe in your eyes when you see the fire dancers at the luau and the fireworks above our hotel, and most of all, I love the fact that you, my little dreamer, still want to spend every weekend watching the stars with daddy.