“Mummy, how did the earth start?”
Yes, why not deal with the birth of all existence before 8.45am on a weekday, when I am yet to have my first cup of coffee and I probably still have a bit of sleep in my eye? I mean, let’s not bother about the slightly simpler queries, such as what is my middle name, or even how many people there are in the world, which I stand half a chance of knowing. Or at least bullshitting convincingly enough that my five year old son is satisfied. Or failing that, finding the answer on the first page of Google.
His questions are becoming way, way too difficult. My intellectual capacity is far more suited to my two year old, who points at a random object and asks: “What’s that?” To which I reply: “A Hoover,” (yes, I know, he should know what a Hoover is by the age of two, but what can I say? Our Hoover is agoraphobic and doesn’t make many trips out from under the stairs). He will then repeat the word, and that is it, case closed. Another satisfied customer of the Parent Enquiry Line. Do call again.
It was only a week ago that I stumbled through an explanation of what an atom was, and how everything was made up of atoms, even humans, which as explanations go, would have attracted a D minus and an angrily scrawled comment in the margin of ‘See me after class’. E had trouble accepting that absolutely everything was made of atoms, which in turn made me think that perhaps I was wrong, but in the face of no better answer, I stuck to my guns which then prompted a long and somewhat arduous discussion about what he saw as the inevitable exceptions to this rule.
“No. Carpet has atoms.”
“No. Seriously, everything is made of atoms. Everything.”
“No. Made of atoms.”
“Listen. You will not find anything that does NOT have atoms in it.” And right there, is the sound of a gauntlet being thrown down at a five year old’s feet.
In the bath: “Water?” “No.”
In bed: “Pillow?” “No.”
On the High Street: “Pavements?” “No.”
In the kitchen: “Light?” “N…oooh, hang on. Light. Does light have atoms in it?” I ask out loud, to no one in particular. What is light made of, I ponder, uselessly, as I know full well that when I pull open the drawer marked ‘physics’ in my brain, all I will find is a half eaten apple.
E is sensing victory is close at hand and grins.
We duly consult with Pops the day after, who is the font of all science-based knowledge, as opposed to myself, who is a font of all biscuit-based knowledge and little else at times. It turns out that E is right: there are no atoms in light. Damn him. I mean, well done him. There was a slightly fuller explanation provided, but I somehow ended up thinking about chocolate Hob Nobs instead of listening.
What I actually need is to enrol on a Parenting Diploma. The first term could cover:
- How they put the hole in Cheerios
- All about atoms
- What those green boxes full of wires on the pavement actually do
- How glass is made
- The name of different clouds (apparently, ‘Frank, Janine and Veronica’ was not a suitable response)
With a bonus module of how to tell a cracking good joke involving poo or blow offs.
And so here I am, confronted with answering the small matter of how the earth started. This is a subject we have talked about before, which to be fair, makes it tricky. What load of old tosh did I pass off as the truth last time as a poor substitute for actual knowledge?
“Well…” I take a deep breath. “It is called the Big Bang…”
“No, let me say. I know,” my son interjects. Ever since Atomgate, he has been a little over-confident in the I Know Everything department. (Little does he know that this department is situated right next door to the Bet You Didn’t Know That Though, Clever Clogs department).
“The earth was made, and a meteor hit Dinosaurland, and all the dinosaurs died, and then the monkeys turned into humans.
And there we go. From the inception of the Earth to the present day, including a bonus tour of the essentials of evolution in twenty-one words. What it lacks in accuracy it certainly makes up for in brevity. I think about how I can perhaps correct some of the more glaring issues and my brain creaks a little.
I open my mouth to speak. “Well done. That is absolutely right.”