Before you have kids, nobody ever warns you about the quicksand. Okay, they don’t warn you about lots of other stuff either (conjunctivitis anyone?) but the quicksand is one area into which an innocent parent wanders easily and often. Big quicksand subjects are sign-posted – you can prepare for Death, Sex and Mortgages, you can see them coming (or not, see here) and deflect the child with a random ‘oh, wow, was that a Ninja Turtle I just saw?’ But the others…
Today I found myself floundering not once, but twice, and without warning. The conversations went from nowhere to Physics (eep!) and Chemistry (help!) in the blink of an eye and without a safety net. This time it was not Mr4, asker of the world’s most difficult questions, but Mr7 who led me merrily down the path towards MumsNotASuperhero (could almost be a Welsh village, could it not?), via quicksand.
The scene: Front yard, Gran & Pops’s house. The boys are riding bikes on the very cool driveway.
Mr7: “Mum, why do bikes stay up when you ride them and fall over when you stop?”
Me, not thinking: “Oh, it’s to do with physics.”
Mr7: “What’s physics?”
Me, still unaware of the cold trickle of wet sand between my toes: “It’s a type of science.”
Mr7: “What’s that got to do with bikes?”
Me, beginning to feel ground shifting beneath my feet: “Well, the bike stays up when you ride because the force of the momentum of the bike is stronger than the force of the pull of gravity on it.”
Mr7: Pause. “Mum, what’s force?”
Me, finally listening to internal voice shrieking ‘you have no idea what you’re talking about’: “You’ll learn about it in year 9 science. Just keep riding or you’ll fall over.”
The scene: The dinner table. Mr7, Mr4 and I are enjoying a little light dinner table conversation.
Actually, I cannot even relay this chat word for word. All I remember is using the words ‘organic’, ‘chemicals’, ‘photosynthesis’, ‘carbon dioxide’ and ‘biology’. The feel of cold, wet sand closing over my head has blanked out the rest. Suffice to say, I was on shaky ground and ended up offering to buy him one of those kids’ science encyclopaedias, just to take the pressure off.
My policy with the basic information questions (as opposed to the big Life questions) has always been to throw as much detail at the kids as they could take. If they ask me something, I explain the hell out of it (hence my ‘fun’ chats about collective nouns), pretty much until their eyes glaze over – a sure sign that they’ve stopped listening. But, as Mr7 gets older and, let’s face it, smarter than me, the gaps in my own knowledge (particularly in the sciences) become more glaringly apparent. I get the feeling I’ll be standing in that quicksand more and more often in the future.
How do you handle questions that have real, factual answers? Do you go for simple and efficient, or throw as much at your kids as they (and you) can handle?