Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Infant Philosophy

'What am I?' asks my son.
'A boy,' I reply, not listening.
'What's a boy?'
'A boy is someone with a ... A boy is human who is male.'
'What's a yewmanooizmale?'
My daughter is pondering separate cosmic mysteries on the sofa.
'Why does cat poo smell?'

These untiring interrogations exasperate me. They distract me from the serious business of the White Stuff catalogue or the Met Office weather bulletin. They also unnerve me, for their infant logic exposes the vastness of my own unknowingness. 'Why did Jesus have to die?' asks my daughter and I discover that, despite sharing a house with a theological library, I flounder. 'Why is water wet?' 'Why don't we have three arms?' 'Why doesn't my Lego tip over when Earth turns round?' I don't know and I don't know and I don't know.

Lately the questions have become more focused and just as foxing. 'What is eight times 13,' asks the nine-year-old, hunched over her maths homework. 'Who was Henry VIII's fourth wife?' 'Why do you never know the answer to anything I ask you?'

I wonder then why it takes children to reveal the holes in my intellect. In adult gatherings  I can maintain a semblance of worldly wisdom as we debate how to remove ketchup stains from lambswool and whether Jason Donovan should have won Strictly Come Dancing. At which point the answer blinds me. The weight of years and insomnia have innured most of us to life's philosophical questions. My brain buzzes with shopping lists and school dates. I lack the mental space and energy to ponder why the wind is windy or what is the essence of Boy.

I am sobered by this. By the time the children are flown and I have the leisure of my own unimpeded thoughts, my mind will have shrunk too small to recapture cosmic curiosity.

I resolve to revise Tudors and times tables and to look up Existentialism on Wikipedia. And next time my son asks me why cats don't need hair cuts, I shall rejoice in his quest for enlightenment, even though my answer will be 'Don't know'.

20 comments:

  1. Love this. DO hope you're writing a book - I'd buy it. Catrin

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  2. Oh, thank you Catrin. Like everyone, I feel I have a book in me, but don't know how to get it out! Blog's on Kindle though!

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  3. My sister said that every time her boys asked a question she sort of knew the answer but the real crux of it was always just outside her range of knowledge - every single time. And we are not stupid or uneducated people.

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  4. Yes, Mrs Midlife, that's how I feel. Like yesterday when my daughter asked what logic meant. Logically, I knew the answer, but I couldn't find the words.

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  5. And all the experts where shocked last week when they found that the brain starts to go in the 40s. I already forget what I came upstairs for.

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  6. What a splendid post. I am chortling about the White Stuff catalogue, as I have just shared my lunch with the Boden one (and NO CHILDREN: they have finally gone back to school).

    My son's big question this morning was 'exactly how much do you have to earn to pay fifty per cent income tax?' As this is never likely to affect me, I did not know the answer.

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  7. I think you should go proactive. #1 give them the answer and see if they can get the question. #2 share with them the knowledge you *do* possess e.g. "Yes" in Japanese is "hai", Italians think parmesan on pasta/ fish sauce is a crime, 4x13 is 52.

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  8. Oh I do like Mummy Haggis' idea: like Jeopardy for pre-schoolers.

    Keep up the ignorant good work.

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  9. Such a brilliantly written and, for me, poignant post. My husband was only saying the other day that where had his curiosity and thirst for knowledge that he had as a little boy gone. Perhaps the answer is is that we parents knock it out of them. How sad. Sorry - I did love the post honest!

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  10. Great blog post. My boys don't ask questions like that any more (thank goodness) but their homework gets even harder, especially the maths!

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  11. hhm why doesnt lego fall over when world turns *heads off to google*

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  12. Here is a small collection of facts imparted by the littler boy (now 6) on the way to school last term: he told me about the flying habits of plated armadillos, that skips were mostly yellow but that he had just seen a green one, asked why squirrels had knuckles (for knocking nuts apparantly), pointed out caterpillar eggs on leaves, then swerved back onto the eating habits of flying armadillos (wood, metal, fish fingers, broccoli and mashed potato, and cliffs since you ask.)

    No problems with facts here: his toy hedgehog knows EVERYTHING apparantly.

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  13. I need that child in my house, Imprudence. Send him over!

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  14. You need the boy -- or the hedgehog?

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  15. I'm not at that stage with my boys yet but suspect when I am, my stock answer will be "let's look that up shall we?". Sigh. You are not alone when it comes to shrinking brains.

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  16. You're a better mother than me. I could never be bothered to look anything up, unless it was the Boden online sale!

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  17. It is the law that all mothers lose their marbles so that kids can gradually acquire the sensation that they are gaining independence from the foolish life-form they will come to know one day simply as 'oh Mother!'

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  18. Oh blimey, you're telling me I have to get good at Maths? I thought I'd left those timetables behind for good. And there was me, thinking life with an 18 month old was tricky.

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  19. My White Stuff catalogue is in the loo with Boden (the catalogue - not Johnnie) as it is the only place I can sort of guarantee 5 minutes peace.

    I too have had the 'Why did Jesus die?' question and as an RS teacher I am torn between a tirade of theology and Roman politics or settling on 'Because they put him on a cross'.

    My usual tactics are to mumble an answer and swiftly follow it with 'Who'd like a Kitkat?' Distraction is the key......

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  20. I think what my daughter meant was why did God arrange it that Jesus had to die as a scape goat. I was about to open my mouth and offer the usual platitudes when suddenly I saw it in a new light and was silenced. The Kitkat would have been a much better idea!

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