Tag Archives: childrens questions

The birth of all existence before 8.45am on a weekday

“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.

“Carpet?”

“No. Carpet has atoms.”

“Bread?”

“No.”

“Flies?”

“No. Seriously, everything is made of atoms. Everything.”

“Lego?”

“No. Made of atoms.”

“Glass?”

“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.”

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Hacking our way through the knotty concept of reality

mill_falcon

Having recently watched the original three Star Wars films, my five year old has become preoccupied with what is ‘real’ and what it not. It is interesting that incessant viewings of Octonauts, where a polar bear, a cat and a penguin sail the oceans in search of perilous situations from which to narrowly escape has never provoked so much as a murmur of doubt about the verity of what he is watching, but there’s nowt so strange as a five year old, as I am wont to say. In a West Country accent, for some reason.

“Is Luke Skywalker real?” E asks me one morning as we walk to school.

“Well, the man who is pretending to be Luke Skywalker in the film is real, but Luke Skywalker is just a character in the story.” Already I feel on shaky ground and as usual woefully under-equipped in the brain department to do this question both the justice and the clarity that an enquiring mind deserves.

“Is Darth Vader real?” I am sorely tempted to say that yes, he is real, and that at night he creeps into the bedrooms of boys who have been naughty to chop their hand off with his light sabre, but I resist. Just.

“No,” I reply. “He is not real, but there is a real man in a Darth Vader costume.”

“Is C3PO real?”

Sodding hell, if we are going to run through the entire cast of three Star Wars films I may have to kill one of us. Or at the very least, chew on a light sabre to stave off the impending insanity.

“Nope. Man in a costume.”

We walk in silence for a while.

“So is Chewbacca a man in a costume?”

Bingo. “Yep.” If I squint, I think I can just make out the end of this conversation, sparkling attractively in the distance.

“But how does he make the railing sound?”

The railing sound? What railing sound? Do railings actually make a sound? Do they let out an existential scream of despair at the perpendicular futility of railing existence that only five year olds can hear?

“Err… railing?”

“Oh, not railing. Wailing. A wailing sound,” E replies.

Oh, right.

“Well… I think the man inside makes the sound. Or, in films, they can put sounds and music on afterwards. Maybe they did that.” I give myself a solid six out of ten for that answer. I’ve provided him with two options, plus a little bit of information he might not have otherwise known, and a possibility of ending this ever-more taxing discussion as a bonus. Sod it. It’s a seven and a half, at least.

“No, mummy. I think what happened was that they recorded the noise before and he had a microphone thing in his pocket and a button, and when he wants to make the sound, he presses the button.”

This is the thing with my son. I don’t think he asks me questions any more to find out the answers. I think he asks me simply to watch me squirm for a little bit, to see how ridiculously implausible my answer is, before telling me what he considers is the right answer. After all, when he poses me a question most days, it is only a matter of seconds after I have delivered my insightful and intelligent answer (by which of course I mean hastily thought out and ill conceived) that he suggests we check on the iPad.

Either that or it is a question of such ludicrous unanswerableness (yes, his questions have forced me into bastardising the English language just to describe them) that he surely knows I will never provide a satisfactory answer. Such as yesterday’s start for ten: “If I fell down a deep chasm with a hundred and eighty two lunch boxes, how long would I survive?” In retrospect, the correct answer as ‘I don’t know’. But I only realised that after I had enquired as to the purpose of the lunch boxes (to break the fall, or provide sustenance) and the contents thereof to ascertain if they contained water to drink or just chocolate buttons.

I find myself wondering if Chewbacca actually had any pockets, before E is at it again.

“Is the space ship real?” Hmmm. Now this is a little more tricky. How would they have made the Millennium Falcon? Would it have been a model, or computer generated? I guess that depends on when it was made. When was Star Wars made? And I suppose Chewbacca could have put the sound button in his pants if he didn’t have any pockets…

I realise that this all an epic waste of brain power, because a) I have no bloody clue, b) I could tell him that it was made of blancmange and it would be no less accurate than any guess he considers to be true and c) the whole pants thing won’t work, because who wants to see Chewbacca rootling around in his hairy undies just to emit a wail?

“I think it was probably drawn on computer,” I finally say.

“Yes, that was what I was going to say,” E replies. “I knew it was pretend.”

Excellent. So whilst it has felt that we were struggling to hack our way through the knotty concept of reality, it seems we have stumbled out the other side, blinking rapidly in the sudden daylight, with a grasp of what is real and what is not. I am pleased.

We walk a little further. I wonder why they made Chewbacca sound like someone had just stepped on his testicles? Actually, does he have testicles? I bet they’re bloody hairy. Maybe his wail is a recording of a heinous swearword slowed down enough to be indecipherable to all but Chewbacca, who is chuckling  inside that costume at the thought that his answer to everything is ‘wanker’. Okay, I probably need to stop thinking about Chewbacca, I am starting to scare myself. I go back to thinking about how my son has grasped the idea of what it real and I smile.

“So how do they get a drawing of a space ship to fly through actual space?

Oh bollocks. This could take some time…


A situation of panic; a breakdown of order

This morning, I was pondering a word that sums up parenthood. This was obviously in the nano-seconds that occurred between throwing porridge in the general direction of E, assembling rain coats and school bags and chasing B around the kitchen table brandishing his shoes and trying not be irritated by the fact that he clearly thought this was the best game he’d played since 4.30am this morning, when he was wide awake and trying to gouge my right eyeball out using only his forefinger and a smattering of dribble.

Fulfilling. Enlightening. Joyous. Inspiring. Affirming. Nope, none of these words sprung to mind when I considered parenthood. Once I had worked my way through a number of swearwords, one word remained: Confusion. Later, I looked up the definition of confusion (let me clarify: fatigue may have dulled my mental facilities, but I did remember what confusion meant, I just wanted help putting the words in the right order), and the first entry I came across read:

‘Lack of understanding, uncertainty. A situation of panic; a breakdown of order.’

Now, if that is not the perfect explanation of parenthood, I don’t know what is. But then I probably don’t know what is, because being a parent, I am in a perpetual state of confusion.

I find myself confused a lot. And Confusion is not just content with hanging around like a house guest that has not only over-stayed its welcome, but also seems to have unpacked its suitcase and put its toothbrush in the cup next to the sink.  Confusion makes you shrug a lot as you look at your one year old screaming and wonder quite what the hell is wrong with him, and then before even have time to scratch your chin, quickly introduces its best friend, Guesswork, who appears to have slipped in through the back door when you weren’t looking.

Perhaps my son is teething, I guess, as I look at my crying son, reaching for the Calpol. Or maybe I have given him my sore throat, I muse, shaking the Calpol bottle. Although it could be a viral thing, I shrug, but open the bottle of Calpol anyway. I suppose it could be something else entirely, I think, as he swallows a dose of the strawberry loveliness and then continues to scream anyway. Maybe it is life threatening. Should I take him to A&E? Or perhaps just a cold? Or possibly he is just bored and screaming is a good way to pass some time.

I am confused about what stage B should be at in his development. Should he be feeding himself by now, I wonder at lunchtime. Probably not, I decide (spot the advanced level of guesswork at work here). At which point he commandeers the fork from me, spears a piece of chicken and pops it in his mouth, looking at me with those ‘you really are a twat, aren’t you, mummy’ eyes.

I am confused about his needs. He points and babbles in a very determined way, but most of the time, I have not got a clue about what he is after. So confused was I yesterday by his vehement pointing, I traced the line of his finger direction like a forensic scientist tracking the path of a bullet, holding up every object in its trajectory, but he just shook his head and grunted more loudly, waggling his forefinger in the air. In the end, I offered up the fridge, a door, the light bulb and some floor fluff in a desperate attempt to find out what he really wanted. It turns out that time, he had something stuck to the tip of his finger that he needed me to remove. It looked like a bogey, but hey, I’m just guessing.

I am confused about why my four year old can be breathtakingly well behaved, offering to wash up and tidy away his toys (I did have to ask him twice to repeat that last one, so astonished was I), only to be found face down on the floor screaming about the unfairness of it all three seconds later. I rarely find out the exact cause of the meltdowns, but with a recent incident, I am guessing (there I go again) it was me and my big mouth having the audacity to say something contentious like ‘let’s take your library books back this afternoon’. I know. What a bitch.

I am confused as to why my one year old wakes up in the dead of night, then is quite happy to spend the next hour staring, wide-eyed at me through the cot bars, only screaming loud enough to peel wallpaper the moment I threaten to leave. Actually, I was confused about this. Now I am just mightily pissed off.

I am confused by my son’s questions. No, I don’t know what slugs eat. I don’t know why electricity is invisible. I am not sure he is right that there is good oxygen and bad oxygen, but then again, I am not sure. Let’s just leave it as a ‘probably’, shall we, and move onto safer ground like what we are having for dinner.

They say there are only two certainties in life: death and taxes. Although when I first heard this adage, I heard it as death and taxis. Which seemed a little less profound than people seemed to give it credit for but pretty realistic, as anyone who has tried to hail a black cab on a Friday night in London will contest.

However, it seems there is only one certainty in parenthood: Confusion. I checked back on the definition of this word. To clarify the aforementioned definition, the online dictionary I used gives the following example:

“The shaken survivors retreated in confusion.”

Which pretty much says everything I wanted to say about parenthood in six words. I not only rest my case, I lock it in an underground chest constructed of reinforced concrete and go and lie down in a darkened room for a while. You know, just to have a few more guesses about my children.