Sometimes my boys, ages six and three, ask hard questions. Not just questions about where babies come from, but questions I never could have anticipated or prepared for, questions that I either lack the expertise to answer or that lead me to unexpectedly dark places. I present five of these questions, in scenes.
Amusement park, end of long day. Boy, age 6, sits on bench eating Dippin’ Dots, while Mom stands anxiously near him.
Six-year-old: (reads side of Dippin’ Dots bowl, tipping it dangerously) Ice cream of the future. How do we know the future will be in space?
Mom: Uh, we don’t. It might. People, for a while, thought that we might be able to live in space. So maybe in the future we would live there. And some people do live there right now.
Six-year-old: How many?
Mom: (thinks about International Space Station but confuses it a little with Biodome, the Pauly Shore film about living in a self-sufficient dome in the desert) Like, maybe five? Or seven.
Mom: They’re just trying it out.
Mom: Just in case things don’t work out on Earth.
Six-year-old: WHY WOULD THINGS NOT WORK OUT ON EARTH?!! (Dippin’ Dots scatter everywhere)
Mom and Dad sit at dinner table with napkins in laps, using silverware to eat their food. Sons, ages 6 and 3, stand next to the their plates and use their hands to eat. Their napkins remain untouched, and their shirts are filthy.
Six-year-old: What is cyberspace?
Mom: I’m not sure anyone says that anymore.
Dad: (laughs.) No one says that anymore. Where did you hear that?
Six-year-old: From a book. But what is it?
Mom: It’s kind of a big idea. It has to do with the Internet. Have you heard of that?
Mom: It has to do with computers. Maybe Dad can explain it, since his job is with computers.
Dad: You know what the Internet is. You use computers.
Mom: Okay, fine. So let’s just say that you and a friend were each at your own house and you were playing a game. Like, you each had an iPad and were playing a game separately.
Dad: (shakes head and waves hands frantically) Wait. Stop!
Mom: But if they’re connected to the Internet, the iPads can talk to each other. So you and your friend could play the game against each other without being in the same place.
Six-year-old: I CAN PLAY GAMES WITH MY FRIEND ON THE IPAD WHEN HE’S NOT EVEN HERE?!
Dad: (looks pointedly at Mom)
Mom: Technically, yes, but we aren’t going to let you do that.
Six-year-old: But I want to.
Three-year-old: I want the iPad!
Mom: No. It’s dinnertime. So anyway, the Internet is how computers talk to each other.
Three-year-old: (rhythmically whining) I need the iPad, I need the iPad.
Six-year-old: Where is it?
Mom: Now it’s in the air. Because of Wi-Fi. But it used to be in wires.
Dad: (trying not to spit out food from laughing. Chews, swallows.) The Internet is not in the air.
Mom: Well, where is it then?
Dad: That’s just not the best way to frame the question.
Mom: I’m not the one who framed the question.
Six-year-old: My question is WHERE IS THE IPAD!
Mom is driving with the two boys in the back seat. It is October, and they pass through a neighborhood that is heavily decorated for Halloween.
Six-year-old: What does “haunted” mean?
Mom: Oh. Wow. It’s like, when someone is dead, but they sort of come back to life without their body. They’re a spirit, or a ghost, and they hang out and sometimes scare people. And if they do that in a certain place, you’d say it’s haunted. But really they’re dead.
Three-year-old: Pete Seeger is dead.
Mom: (glance in rearview mirror to see sad face) Yes, he is, sweetie. He was very old, though. He had a good life.
Six-year-old: But how could you be somewhere without your body? That doesn’t make any sense.
Mom: Right. Well, it’s just a story. I mean, some people think it’s real, but I don’t. I mean, I don’t like to think about it very much. It’s kind of just too much to think about. You know what I mean?
Six-year-old: Not really.
Three-year-old: Pete Seeger will haunt us.
Mom: No, no, bud. I really don’t think that’s the kind of thing Pete Seeger would do.
Six-year-old: How do you know?
Mom: I guess I don’t. He just seemed like a good and happy man. (Wonders how much she really knows about Pete Seeger. Maybe he went to the grave still upset that Bob Dylan went electric and still has a score to settle. Decides not to raise this issue with young sons.)
Six-year-old: And ghosts are bad?
Mom: Well, or they have some kind of unfinished business.
Three-year-old: (singing) She’ll be comin’ round the mountain when she comes…
Mom: Don’t worry about it. Anyway, it’s sort of like they have their brains, but not their bodies.
Three-year-old: But how will we cut off their heads?
Mom: We won’t! Their bodies are buried and their heads are still on.
Three-year-old: But how will we dig up the bodies?
Mom: WE WILL NOT DIG UP THE BODIES! (whips head around. 3-year-old’s lip is quivering.)
Six-year-old: Can you see them?
Mom: Well, yes, sometimes, but you can kind of see through them.
Six-year-old: Can you stick your hand through them?
Mom: I think so.
Six-year-old: So it’s basically like a hologram?
Mom: Yes! So much like a hologram. That’s a great way of thinking about it. What a good connection you made.
Six-year-old: It means exactly the same thing?
Mom: (slumps, disappointed) No. I think a hologram is made by a machine. And I just don’t know what makes a spirit. Or a ghost. I’m pretty sure it’s not real, though. It’s definitely not real.
Mom, Dad, and two sons board subway car. They sit down directly across from an advertisement featuring a girl dressed like a naughty schoolgirl in a plaid skirt and a white shirt tied to reveal her midriff. Her ass is to the viewer, and she is looking over her shoulder while sucking on a lollipop. Just above her hip, a tattoo reads, “Billy 4-Eva.” Mom and Dad lock eyes and Mom mouths “WTF” over kids’ heads, except it is not abbreviated.
Six-year-old: (points at poster) I don’t know those words. What do they say?
Dad: It says “Tattoo Removal Services”
Six-year-old: A tattoo is a drawing on your skin?
Three-year-old: Can I have a lollipop?
Dad: We have no lollipops.
Three-year-old: (whines) You need to buy me one.
Six-year-old: They are not going to buy you a lollipop. They NEVER BUY US LOLLIPOPS! (Regards Mom, then Dad, angrily for a moment, then returns gaze to advertisement.) So is this an ad to get a tattoo?
Mom: No. It’s an ad to get it taken off.
Six-year-old: But why would you want to get one on and then take it off?
Mom: Well, I’m just guessing, but maybe she doesn’t like Billy anymore. Maybe she doesn’t even know Billy anymore. She was young and she didn’t actually have any idea how her life would turn out. (Squints at poster. Wonders if this is meant to have been the client in the late nineties, around the time of Britney Spears’ debut album, …Baby One More Time — the client when she truly believed she and Billy would make it. Not pictured is the client fifteen years later, having to be careful about the bathing suit she wears to Mommy and Me swimming lessons. Realizes this is a more sophisticated advertisement than she originally thought.)
Six-year-old: Mom. Mom. Can you hear me?
Mom: (shakes head to pull herself out of reverie). I’m here, buddy. Just hit me with that question one more time. (Looks at Dad to see if he thinks she’s funny. He is gazing off into space, but at least not at the advertisement.)
Six-year-old: How do they get it off?
Six-year-old: (smiles as if in on amazing joke) You are kidding me.
Mom: I would not kid you about lasers. They can be used for so many different things.
Six-year-old: Let’s talk about all of them!
Mom is folding laundry in living room while son, age 3, plays with trains nearby.
Three-year-old: Why do we?
Mom: Why do we what?
Three-year-old: (eyes large and mournful) Why do we?
Mom: (stops folding laundry.) I don’t know, buddy. We just do. (Grows sad. Has to sit down.)