To my complete delight, the older girls are starting to feel the independence that I had hoped they would experience while here. At home, COVID and riots had made them anxiety-ridden. They were at times scared to leave the house and tended to stay very close to me at all times. Here, we are staying in a quiet neighborhood on a river where kids have a lot of freedom. We've spent a lot of time exploring the neighborhood together and now the older girls are starting to take off on their own.
It started one evening after dinner. The girls pulled out their bikes and decided they wanted to go down to the beach for sunset. I walked with Anne, who was on her bike but moves much more slowly than her sister. Meg and Clare took off, yelling, "We'll see you there."
The next morning, the older girls woke up early and went off for a bike ride along the river. They met other kids their age who gave them practical advice like "never put your bike down in the sand because the sand messes up the bike chain." Clare said she felt like Vicky Austin from A Ring of Endless Light (which I discuss here) jumping on her bike to ride around the island. Anne and I eventually met up with them and everyone went for a swim in the river. To our surprise, a bunny appeared out of the grasses beside the beach.
Later that night, we drove to Frosty Drew Observatory and Sky Theater. This observatory, built on an old Naval Air Station, offers weekly star viewing for the public away from any light pollution. A few telescopes are set up around the field, where a knowledgeable volunteer explains what you are seeing. One volunteer used an amazing laser pointer (which seemed to point directly at the stars) to identify constellations. When we weren't looking through telescopes, we simply stretched out on the ground and watched the night sky. Anne would make up stories about what she saw in the stars and I told her that she was doing precisely what ancient people did when they began telling the stories of constellations.
The highlight of the night was going into the observatory itself and looking through the high-powered telescope it holds. We could see Saturn, its rings and its moons. It was truly amazing. I had just written down a quote from A Ring of Endless Light that seemed perfectly applicable to that moment: "If I'm confused, or upset, or angry, if I can go out and look at the stars I'll almost always get back a sense of proportion. It's not that they make me feel insignificant; it's the very opposite; they make me feel that everything matters, be it ever so small, and that there's meaning to life even when it seems most meaningless."