Dealing with the questions children pose no one expects the Spanish Inquisition. But there you are, tied to the rack of “Why” and each turn of the screw become an adventure in innocent torture. True, one need not be a parent to be seized by the neck and pillared into submission to the all consuming “Why” question. One only needs that innocent gesture of goodwill toward the young minds of tomorrow’s world and thus become denounced before the inquisitor. Let the games begin. Now I have two children, George and Lorie. George is the oldest but Lorie is the smarter of the two. The boy is the elder by a little more than a year so by the time he was four he was asking those beginning questions so many children find necessary to club us about the neck and shoulders until we become black and blue. “Why does our cat climb trees, Daddy? Why does Mommy have a headache? Why did you have Lorie, I wanted a brother?”
And so it began. “Yes, the cat climbs trees because he can.” “But why, Daddy?” “To chase the birds.” “But why Daddy?” “Because that’s what cats do.” “Does he catch any birds, Daddy?” “No, he has the same luck catching birds as I do answering your questions. Now go ask your mother what time it is.” And so the game continues as Lorie reaches the first step in the wonderment of teasing parents through questions. George may have taught her the game but she improved upon it greatly.
George. “Daddy, why does the fish swim away from me when I put my hand in the bowl? Lorie. “Yeah, Daddy, how come the fishes don’t like George.” In football this is known as being gang tackled and it’s pretty rough on the body. In the inquisition this is known as letting Daddy have both barrels. Daddy. “George, you’re not suppose to put your hand in the fish tank (I would use the correct terminology of aquarium but that would only incite both inquisitors to greater lengths), you’ll make the fish sick and then they’ll die.” Lorie. Yeah George, you make the fishes die. Daddy, how did George make the fishes die? George. “Yeah Daddy, how would I make them sick?” Daddy. The germs on your dirty hands are bad for the fish and they could get a disease from your germs.” George. “Do I have a disease, Daddy?” Daddy. “Yes, it’s asking too many questions.”
Then we send them off to school and sic them on the teachers, poor slobs. But the teachers get even with us by inciting our own dear sweet children to ask us about things they learned in school. Talk about getting sucker punched! George. “We learned about John Smith and Pocahontas today. Did you know them when you were a kid?” Daddy. “Yes, George, we used to play cowboys and Indians together before I could walk.” “Daddy, you’re teasing me again.” Lorie. “I want to be Pocahontas when I grow up. Can I, Daddy? Please.” Daddy. “You can be anything your mother tells you to be.” “You’re mean Daddy. I’m telling Mommy.” And so it goes. Daddy thinks he has a handle on the situation until Mommy has a stern talk with him. “Really Bob, they’re only asking questions. the least you can do is to give them good answers.”
But it’s along about fifth grade that the more serious questions come and now Daddy is faced with some real challenging ones. George. “Hey Dad, my teacher says no one can divide by zero. Why is that?” Daddy. To himself, “I think I was asleep that day when the teacher explained it to me but now I’ve got to give an answer that sounds at least right. Now what do I know about division by zero? Let me see….oh yes. “Zero is not a real number, it’s a place holder and you can’t use a place holder to divide a real number.” Sounds good to me. George. “Out teacher says that division by zero is undefined. Was he wrong?” Daddy. “Not at all, it’s undefined because, well, because we don’t know what it is.” George. “Oh, I see.” and he walks away unimpressed with out reasoning.
Now it’s Lorie’s turn. She’s in the advanced fourth grade. Told you she was a smart cookie. She’s also an obvious trouble maker and deviant personality. “Daddy, why is the sky blue?” Daddy. To himself. If I had known this was going to be on the test I would have studied harder. What was that the professor said in that general science class? Something about molecules and atoms and light and the chromatic scale…no, not the chromatic scale…it was something to do with chemistry…no, no…wait, spectroscopy. “Uh, when the sun light….shines through the molecules…it gives off blue light.” “Which molecules, Daddy?” “Oh, uh, the water molecules, you know H2O.” But why blue light, Daddy?” Oh god, she’s got me now…it’s the oxygen atom, I think. But why the blue light? Something about …refraction, I think. Yes, that’s it, must be refraction. “It’s the oxygen molecule that refracts the light causing the color blue to appear.” Good, got away with it. “Daddy, what’s refraction?” Why didn’t I take physics as a major? Oh, that’s right, the math was too hard. Let’s see Issac Newton, what is refraction? Something about a prism that turns white light into the various colors, right? “Oh. uh, refraction is how white light is turned into various colors.” “But how, Daddy? My teacher says there is no white light.” Of course there’s white light, right there in the middle of the, er spectrum. But that doesn’t quite make sense, does it. Let’s try it this way. “Rays of light travel and each color has, umm, a different wave length. And so when something like a drop of water refracts those waves of light a blue light appears.” “That’s not what he said, Daddy. He said that all the light waves are absorbed by the atom except for the color blue.”
And to think I still have high school to relive. Well, my little girl, and you too, George, you just wait until you have children!