There are many things I find wondrous about having a child, but today I was thinking about the amusing and enlightening fact that my three-year-old takes my questions seriously.
I am somewhat accustomed to people taking my questions seriously in general, of course — I am, after all, a teacher post-Socrates — but with my son the context is entirely different. I’m not questioning him about the history of the fourteenth century or what Iago is up to in Othello; more often than not I’m asking him about the basic workings of the world, the sorts of things you and I take for granted.
And because he is untrammeled by the world, because he takes these sometimes joking questions seriously, in a way that you or I never would, I am constantly humbled and forced to step back and look at the world through his fresh eyes.
About 15 minutes ago, for example, we were eating lunch. I was re-reading a medieval outlaw tale that I’ll be teaching in, oh, about 45 minutes. My son was eating a hot dog. The wife was tossing the infant equivalent of all-natural Cheetohs at our daughter, who was happily grabbing them and crunching them apart with her 6 teeth. The wee lad, finishing his hot dog, asked for more “things” to eat.
I didn’t look up from my book. “What things?”
“Things like sister. I’ll take and bite them with my teeth,” he said, chomping the air dramatically.
“Why won’t you bite them with your nose?” I asked.
He didn’t respond right away, and the quiet pause was enough to make me glance up from my reading. The boy, I saw, was sort of looking off into the space over my shoulder. His mouth was open, and a couple of his fingers were tracing the line of his incisors. Then, as I watched, those same fingers moved upward toward his nostrils and felt around a bit. The fingers fell away after a moment, and his eyes returned to mine. With all earnestness, in the serious tone best reserved for conclusions wrought of true scientific inquiry, he looked into my eyes and said, “Because my nose doesn’t have teeth, Daddy.”
I laughed. I closed my book. He got some baby Cheetohs. And my son, no doubt uncertain why his discovery caused such amusement but pleased to have been a part of it nonetheless, laughed, too.