It's been awhile since I did any installments of my spiritual advice column. It turns out that my post-marital-separation, blue funk, one-size-fits-enough response of "Tell 'em to stick it!" is not universally applicable after all. (My apologies again to Gladys from Wichita for offering that gem in response to your question about what to write in a sympathy card.)
Anyway, I thought I'd give it a whirl in a different direction and share my responses to two difficult questions my children threw at me today. The point of these illustrations is not the answers to the questions but the framing of the discussion. I doubt that this is the best way to do this, but it worked out well enough that I don't think I'll have nightmares tonight.
Besides, we all know that we read advice columns in order to say, "Oh, please! I could answer that soooo much better."
Question #1 - Mama? If worms make soil by eating it and pooping it, what did the first worm eat? And do worms eat the poop of other worms?
Naturally this question combo was launched while I had a mouthful of cajun chicken wrap. I did a mental assessment on my breadth of knowledge of worms and... almost nothing. OK.
I asked myself, "How much evolution do I want to cover today having majored in German literature?"
Then I said my mantra, "Screw it!" and launched into the following.
"First of all, GROSS! I was eating, Little Man! Geez.
"Now to answer this we need to think way back and remember that everything is always changing. Mountains were underwater. Continents were once together. Dinosaurs came. Dinosaurs went. It all changes but so slowly it's hard for us to see.
"We don't get to be here for long enough to appreciate the changes of species. The most years I could reasonably hope for would be 100, and the only evolution I can see is my boobies sinking down to..."
"Sorry. Moving on. Think about it: a worm is a simple creature. It fulfills a purpose and meets a need with this dirt eating thing but it also had to change along the way if everything changes. So there was Not Worm and she adapted and became Almost Worm. Then one day there were enough changes to make what we call today: Worm.
"This Chickie thinks that the first worm that was recognizable as a worm ate something like soil but was really Not Quite Yet Soil because the worm hadn't eaten it yet. Maybe it was stardust, leaf crumble, minerals, and other critter poop. Maybe it was rotten tree.
"I don't know. My boobies and I weren't here yet. The way I imagine it is this: What the first worm ate became different by being worm-eaten. One day we don't have worms and soil as we know them. Then everything changed.
"Now that I'm thiking about it, that first poop by that first worm making soil was pretty earth shattering, so to speak, AND YET (gasp!) we don't observe it as a holiday. Weird, huh?"
Heads nod in agreement. I love a captive audience.
"As for worms eating other worm poop, yes. It happens. But hopefully there is so much stardust, leaf crumble, moose and bird poop, and ancestor booby that it doesn't notice it's next-door-worm-neighbor's poop in the mix. I'm going back to my cajun wrap now."
After Action Review: I wanted to answer my children but I don't and can't know the answer. So I reached into my bag of truths and pulled out the lesson I wanted them to get from this. I tried to convey the constant amazing natural flux our world is in. This is a concept I define as sacred. I also tried to model critical thinking which is essential, in my view, to any big life question. I sprinkled boobies in because they always keep things lively.
As for the second question, I wanted them to know sometimes things are shitty but they usually aren't as shitty as you think.
Question #2 - Mama? I know what gets done that makes babies. (Shudder.) But how does the seed get into the mama from the dada's you-know-what? Does he pee in her?
This Chickie thinks she wishes she didn't have to explain sex. As liberated as I think I am, even I get skittish when I have to start dishing out words like "ejaculation" to my little precious darlings. So I jumped right in with the unsupportive response of...
"Whaaaat?!?! Pee? Yuk. Where did you...? I... you... ARGHH! I am STILL eating!!!"
"It was on Myth Busters. They said that there was that stuff in pee."
"Ah, well, if it was on Myth Busters... Wait. No. Just because there can be semen in pee does not mean the reverse is... hold on. Wait." I did NOT want to talk about this.
"Forget anatomy. I have a more important answer... Dude, do you really think I'd let myself get peed on? Blech! I mean, you and your sister are great and all but that's asking a bit much, don't ya think?"
Affirmative bobbing heads.
"No. The pee and the other stuff come out of the same outside spot but aren't from the same inside spots. Two different liquids but one faucet."
"Oh OK. Phew!"
And then they went on to making rules for Baby Girl's new clubhouse and watching video from the 2000 Fort Worth tornado on which Little Man is writing a paper. Phew, indeed.
After Action Review: I feel like I get a hundred questions a day from each child on topics ranging from "which monkeys don't climb trees" to "why is that man's skin so white?"
My son has asked me about the "personhood" laws. My daughter wants to know what animals think. I rarely know the textbook answer but I do know my kids and I know that the question asked rarely is the actual burning question. My hunch was that the real question was, "Is sex as gross as it seems?" and my desire was to convey the answer, "No." Simple as that.
Parents come to me all the time concerned that they gave the wrong answer to a deep and spiritually important question from their child thus causing permanent damage which will only appear during a presidential election in the distant future. Most often the parental fear is that they rambled on and bored the child.
They usually have. And that's no biggie.
This Chickie thinks the goal is to keep talking. Just listen out for what the real question is and get better at answering it. Our children remember the time spent together working through things more than the phrasing, the metaphors, the shape of our logic, or our subject-verb agreement.
Oh, and I've discovered that there are surprising limitations to the helpfulness of "Tell 'em to stick it!" with them as well. This Chickie does not recommend telling the children that one because it is one of those phrases that stays with a child verbatim and comes out at some pretty inopportune (for you) and often otherwise somber moments.
I hope these examples have been helpful. If not... Boobies!