When my son was four years old, I sent him to Grandma’s house and painted his room – a black ceiling fading down the wall into blue, then regular white. I added in planets, scaled as much as possible, with his light as the much-too-small sun. Glow-in-the-dark stars popped up all over the night sky. Above his door I painted, “Reach for the stars!”
Well, I can’t claim responsibility for my son’s successes. He’s put in plenty of hard work and has been influenced by many great people. Still, I’d like to believe that that one saying, hand-painted somewhere he couldn’t miss, served as a daily reminder to reach for success.
He’s had his ups and downs. In fifth grade, somehow he managed to convince me that a major project was due the day after the last day of class. His teacher was probably surprised when he waltzed in in the middle of grading with his project in hand. We doubled down on the work ethic, relieving him of some of the distractions for a while. It worked. He became a stellar student through middle school and high school.
When he got out on his own, Mom wasn’t there to nag him any more, and he faltered, but just a bit. Chalk it up to a lack of direction and focus. At one point, I pulled him aside and said, “Look, what are you going for here? What is it you want to do with your life?”
He related a story of going stargazing with a friend who had a Dobsonian telescope and seeing the rings of Saturn. His eyes shone as he spoke. “Mommy,” he said, “I want to have an observatory.”
Well, that’s not what I expected to hear, but we went online and looked at the possibilities of buying an observatory. It turns out, most “observatories” are small silos in the middle of nowhere. I don’t know if I said this at the time, but I could not imagine my social, talkative son spending his life in the middle of nowhere. I looked at him as we perused. He seemed perplexed. This may not have been what he was expecting either.
“Hey, you should check this place out,” I said, opening a page for Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona. The previous summer on a road trip to San Antonio to drop my daughter off for college the rest of the family had stopped here. We had been impressed with this small observatory in dark sky territory. (He hadn’t been able to come along.) As we looked through the website, we clicked on the jobs page. There was an opening for an educator. We looked at each other.
What began as an educator position (read tour guide) has morphed into a research assistant position and the pursuit of a physics/astronomy degree. He is currently looking into doctoral programs around the country and around the world. He has seen the construction of the Discovery telescope and met Neil Armstrong, and is currently helping to map the universe. (At least I think that’s what he’s doing. He’s talking a bit above my head these days.)
I think back to that inquisitive little boy who just wanted to know more about the world around him, and I just have to smile. He’s reaching for his stars.