Posted by: Mark Nielsen | March 3, 2010

Planets as Playthings: A Boy & His Toys


Uranus: the "swiftly tilting planet"...

You’re sitting on Uranus.” – Graham Nielsen, 2-26-10

And I was. He had put his flat cardboard planet (from a dissembled mobile), under my right butt cheek. And he said this with no consciousness at all that he’d made a double entendre. He was just enacting a little scene between Uranus, Jupiter and Neptune. It’s too bad he can’t stay seven forever. Such weird, raucous fun with my son lately.

Graham’s an astronomy nut, by the way. I may have written about this before, but it’s still going strong at 3 years and counting, so it’s clearly not like a kid’s “dinosaur phase”. He’s been to four planetariums in three cities (Boston, St. Louis, Adler in Chicago, and the quaint but little-known Cernan Space Center at Triton College in the Chicago suburb of  River Grove). In addition to the mobile, he has small plastic planets he uses as tub toys, large posters of the Cone Nebula and the moon (okay, those were mine originally), an astronomy theme on his bedsheets, a lamp with actual revolving planets, and stars on his ceiling (the requisite glow-in-the-dark stars). He has a big book with a rotating star chart, and about ten other books, some of which are actually meant for grownups. This past Christmas, his mom asked for a good telescope, so we got this big fat Celestron land/sky scope for use up in Wisconsin (where there’s no light pollution problem). I’ll be using it more for wildlife, but Graham’s got his eyes on the skies.

Now this month, Graham is moving on to the next level: a three-panel all-school science fair project comparing the solar system’s planets, and telling visitors what they would weigh on Mars, just for an example. (I’m only 94.25 pounds! Maybe I should move there.)

Sue and I are certainly fans of sci-fi and general science, but he really didn’t get this from us. I suspect he got it genetically from his two grandfathers, especially Sue’s dad Richard Nickerson, a PhD. chemist. He didn’t get to meet my late father, and barely got to meet Richard, but one has little control over what one inherits nevertheless. He even looks like Richard, down to the nearsightedness and Coke-bottle glasses. And he could do worse, I tell you. Both grandfathers were fine men: intelligent, fairly gentle, responsible.  

So reach for the stars, kiddo! It beats the heck out of flying through space using a Playstation game, while sitting on your anus.


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