Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Thoughts on Pluto and Size

Four years ago on this very day, a group of 424 astronomers sat down and voted on the definition of a planet.

By the new definition, Pluto didn't make the cut. Goodbye planet Pluto, and any number of mnemonics that helped us all learn the order of the planets when we were in grade school. 

I remember discussing this at the dinner table with my husband. We thought it was hilarious. We made jokes to each other while the kids (then ages 5 and 3) ate dinner. We thought of the poor kids of the future who will never know the ending to "My Very Excellent Mother Just Sent Us Nine..."  They'll be scratching their heads, wondering just how Excellent a Mother she could possibly be for just trailing off like that, leaving them with nothing!

Much later that night I was peacefully asleep, facing the side of the bed, when I was startled awake. Nathan was standing there staring at me with wide eyes, tears streaming down his face.

I sat up and grabbed him, concerned because Nathan has never been prone to nightmares or wandering about the house in the middle of the night. Or tears for that matter. I asked what was wrong, and he said, "I don't understand how Pluto was a planet yesterday and now it's not a planet today. Who has the right to make that decision? And why would they ever do that? It's not like Pluto ever did anything to them." And then he just sat there and quietly sobbed.

I was absolutely dumbfounded. I mean, a five year old should not be worrying about that, right? Right? I didn't think Nathan even knew what planets were! Shortly after that little middle-of-the-night conversation, we got him a book about astronomy and planets. It was meant for a much older kid, but he devoured it, in the same way he later devoured books on human anatomy, machinery and robots, and perhaps the oddest one to catch his fancy, a National Geographic book about the Titanic, complete with photographs and theories on what went wrong that fateful night. You want a surreal experience? I remember debating with Nathan over different ways they could have saved more people if there had been a slight change to the design. He was six. (Our current topic of debate? Nuclear fission and nuclear power in general. Someone help me!)

Throughout Nathan's childhood he's been treated poorly by people who think he's much older than he is, including yours truly. His height makes people guess his age at up to two years older than he really is. His first week of first grade he was called a liar by the yard duty lady when he did something he shouldn't on the playground and she wrote him up. She said as a third grader he should know better. She didn't believe he was only a first grader and didn't yet know all the rules. And his intelligence and knowledge about a wide range of subjects fool us into thinking he's more mature than he really is. He can talk to the doctor intelligently about blood cells and clotting, and he's always coming up with questions about things I've never even thought about. When Nathan does something ridiculously childish or developmentally age-appropriate,  everyone  comes down on him much harder than anyone ever would to Benjamin, who is blessedly average in size and demeanor.

I hope that when Nathan hits adulthood things will level out a bit as the other kids have a chance to catch up in height. I hope he won't continue to be the subject of scorn and derision for what looks like immature behavior for a kid his size. It's tough. Just like poor Pluto getting kicked off the team for being the wrong size, he just can't help it. Today's anniversary of Pluto's banishment from planethood is a good reminder for me to treat Nathan like the kid he is. One who may be smart, but is a kid all the same.

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