Dinosaur Question

“Why does a T-Rex have two fingers one each hand that are totally useless?”

Jordana has a very simple response to Barnaby and Marlena – answer the question they ask. So, when Barnaby asks me, “why are your arms covered in fur?” I just answer “In the middle of ninth grade, over the course of about two weeks, my body just sprouted fur everywhere.” That was my answer. He didn’t ask any follow-ups, this answer satisfied him, and it was absolutely true. When Barnaby asks, “do you think we should have another baby?” I say, “Nope! When it was just me and your mom, we were lonely for you, and then when it was me, you and your mom, we were lonely for another kid. Now we have Marlena, so we’re all here!”

It’s just amazing how quickly things spiral,  though. Barnaby asked if the planet was getting hotter, and I told him it was. It’s a very simple question and there is not a single scientist on Earth that doesn’t know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the planet is getting hotter. He asked me this question in a room full of ardent conservative Republicans, though, and the air pressure dropped when he asked it. Fortunately, he stopped there, but later he asked me *why* the planet is getting hotter.

Now, there is no ambivalence on this matter. Besides a very, very small minority of fringe voices employed by large polluters, everyone knows that human activity is causing the temperature of the Earth to climb. There is some debate about whether we’re *solely* to blame, or if some planetary cycles have something to do with it, but it is beyond any kind of debate that human activity is causing the temperature of the planet to rise. Barnaby understands atmosphere and climate – he’s obsessed with terra-forming Mars when he grows up, so he knows that carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere helps trap heat. It’s amazing, he’s five, he’s not the most attentive or studious kid in the world, and he understands the threat of human-influenced global warming more than the deniers.

Now, I should say, I’ve got no dog in this hunt, the environment just isn’t an issue that gets me riled up. As long as China and India are allowed to do whatever they want, no amount of recycling or turning off the tap when I’m brushing my teeth is gonna change that. But I also know that I can’t answer questions like this with “well, there are two schools of thought on this subject” because there aren’t. There is accepted fact as presented by the united scientific community, and there’s a fairy tale invented by a few corporations who are terrified of losing money. I didn’t tell him about the fairy tale, or why it’s invented, or who believes it for what reason, I just answered his question.

So, when he asks me why a T. Rex has these useless front arms, I’m in the same territory. The T. Rex didn’t make it, he’s a dead end. He has arms because every animal before him had arms, but not all evolutionary qualities make sense. Those tiny worthless arms, on some other creatures, eventually developed into wings and they became chickens. Barnaby has watched enough nature shows on the Science Channel to accept evolution as a completely reasonable and rational explanation for the development of animals.

So, I answered the question, “he evolved from animals who had more useful arms and fingers. His were useless because he didn’t need them, he had giant teeth and really fast legs.” He didn’t ask any follow-ups, this answer satisfied him and it was absolutely true. At one point, about a year ago, he asked what kind of monkey we evolved from, and I told him we didn’t evolve from monkeys, that monkeys, apes and humans all evolved from a common ancestor millions and millions of years ago. That made sense to him. It was amazing, all the Evangelical Christians who yell “my mother wasn’t a monkey!” – my five year old understands the scientific facts behind evolution more than that.

Barnaby has been told stories by other people that I don’t think are true. He’s been “taught” things by a lot of the people he comes in contact with, and some of it is stuff that I would *never* tell him myself. My version of the Christmas Story is that a baby was born to poor parents and he grew up to be one of the greatest teachers and political figures in the world – that any baby can grow up and be anything they want. His version? A baby was born that everyone wanted to kill, and he was visited by some kings and some veterinarians, and eventually the people who wanted to kill that baby caught up with him when he was a grownup and killed him.

Seriously. He got that from his cousin. And… it’s not *wrong*.

I don’t run interference when this happens. I don’t care if someone plays Rush Limbaugh in the car while he’s riding in the back seat. He has never responded well to overt anger, and he’s incredibly logical, Rush Limbaugh holds no appeal to his kind of mind. In short, I trust him. We’ve had arguments about the existence of God – he claims there *is* a God and I tell him that it doesn’t make any sense to me – but we’ve agreed to disagree. I trust him so much that if he sees God, if he understands something that I don’t, then I gotta assume that I don’t know everything about the topic.

But I don’t feel like it’s my responsibility to tell him the difference between what *is* and what some people *believe in*. We sent to Sesame Place and Barnaby met Elmo, but first he asked me how Elmo can see through his eyes, which were obviously plastic. I tried to evade, but he persisted. I finally leaned down so the other kids couldn’t hear me and said, “Honey, there’s an actor inside the Elmo costume. Those eyes are just there to look like eyes, but the actor is actually looking through the costume’s mouth. That’s how the person sees.” Barnaby looked at him and then said to me, “Daddy, I’m just gonna pretend that’s actually Elmo. I like that better.”

What can I say? I’ve been producing theater for sixteen years, and my five year old understands the suspension of disbelief better than I do.

I trust him.