I remember one of my son’s first trips to the Museum of Natural History years ago. He was at the height of his interest in astronomy — one of those rites of passage evey kid seems to go through. It’s like the interest all kids develop at one time or another in dinosaurs.
So there we were in the parking garage entrance area, where the ticket booths are. Along the far wall are models of the planets, and we followed them from the start: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, and so on. We followed the line down until we hit Neptune, then kept walking and wound up inside an adjacent gift shop.
“May I help you?” the woman asked.
“Yes, we’re looking for Pluto,” I said.
“It’s not a planet,” she said.
My son and I were greatly disappointed, to say the least.
Little did I realize at the time that we were at the height of controversy surrounding Pluto, which has since been officially demoted from planet status.
I’m actually in the midst of finishing a book about it all, titled the Pluto Files by Neil deGrasse Tyson, head man at the museum’s Haydn Planetarium. Turns out the museum started an uproar when it refurbished the planetarium without Pluto among the planets.
Anyway, it’s a story that, as they say in my business, has legs. Just last week, our neighbors had a dinner party which they dubbed “astronomy night” for all the kids, and we pulled out a couple of telescopes to see Saturn in the southern sky.
In the middle of it all, my son decided to poll everyone at the party on whether Pluto really was a planet. Needless to say, the results were inconclusive. But I couldn’t help but sense that a lot of the kids really miss Pluto as a full-fledged planet. My son certainly does.
The experience heightened my realization that our kids are growing up with some different realities than we had as kids.
These aren’t necessarily life-changing situations or ideals. It’s just different. When I was a kid T. Rex was supposed to have been a slow, lumbering creature that walked like Godzilla in the Japanese monster flicks, and there were a few less elements in the periodic table that I had to memorize.
But I’ve come to see it as a positive thing. Parents are traditionally supposed to help educate kids on the world around them. Now it seems my son and I are learning a thing or two together. And that’s kinda cool.
Even if I had one more planet than him.