There are people, you know the ones, who know everything about everything, right? And there are some people who know a little bit about everything. And still others who know nothing. At. All. And so a little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing. Or a funny thing. Or just plain… wrong, like when you’re seven years old and trying to understand the world. Or trying to apply your understanding of the world to how the world actually works. Then your mom is left to correct you so you don’t embarrass yourself. But then she goes and writes about it and embarrasses you anyway.
We got a parakeet. It’s a male. Or so we think. He’s a little young still to be 100% certain, but that’s what the breeder thought and that’s what the vet thought too.
“Mom?” Snags asks. “Can a male bird lay eggs?”
I explain that no, male birds don’t lay eggs.
“Well then,” he says. “Maybe one day we could get a female bird.”
“Maybe,” I say. “But let’s start with one bird and see how it goes. One bird at a time right now, okay?”
“Yeah, okay.” Snags agrees. “Cause you know if a male bird and female bird get together, you know what’s gonna happen right?”
And there it is, right there. The birds and the bees. Or at least the bird, anyway, in a cage in front of me. Oh! My! God! I think. How did we get from feeding the parakeet to talking about the birds and the bees? This is so UNFAIR! I can’t believe it’s happened AGAIN! I’m stuck in the conversation and my husband is nowhere to be found.
But to my surprise, instead of saying that when a male bird and a female bird get together they’ll have baby birds, Snags says “If a male bird and a female bird get together, one of them is going to end up DEAD!”
So this isn’t a sex talk? At first I’m all confused. I’m silent. Thinking…. These are parakeets we’re talking about. Gentle little birdies. How did I miss this part about their murderous nature?
And then it dawns on me. Snags attended a birthday party a few weeks back. An animal adventure party where the kids got to hold and learn about a variety of animals: chinchillas, hedgehogs, bearded dragons, cockatiels, a boa constrictor, and my least favorite, a tarantula. My skin still crawls when I think about that one.
Snags learned that the way to tell the difference between a male and a female tarantula is to put them together in a cage and the one that ends up dead by morning, that’s the male. So of course it only makes sense, when you’re seven, that birds would be the same way.
From a book called Hungry, Hungry Sharks, Snags learned that more people die from bee stings each year than die from shark attacks. Snags has food allergies, but I don’t think he realizes that people can be allergic to bee stings, and that without the same life saving shot of epinephrine we use for food allergy reactions, a bee sting can be fatal to those with bee sting allergies.
And so he asked me, “How would people die from a BEE STING?” Before I could answer he went on, “Oh I know! Killer bees!”
“Do we have them here?” He asked, sounding worried and looking a little green.
Myself, well, I don’t know for sure, I don’t think we do. I haven’t heard any news stories about killer bees in our area, so I chose to skirt the issue by responding with what may or may not be a lie: “No, I think killer bees only live in places like Texas. Or maybe Mexico.”
Snags was relieved, because he knows those places are far from here. But then he said, “Yeah, so that couldn’t happen here because Mexico is in Hawaii!”
To all of my former college geography professors: Forgive me. I obviously have failed my son. “No,” I said. “Mexico is in South America, it’s a whole different country from us (and yeah, I know. My husband, also a geography major, corrected me later. CENTRAL AMERICA, he said. CENTRAL AMERICA. So yeah, geography professors, if you really want to come take my degree back, you can. It’s old though, and so am I. I doubt it’s worth much anymore.) “Hawaii,” I went on, “is in the United States, in the Pacific Ocean. Mexico is basically SOUTH of Texas. Hawaii is WEST of Texas. WAAAAAAY West, across the country and then out across part of the ocean.”
“So do we control Mexico?” Snags asked.
“No,” I told him.
“So their Queen can’t control us either, right?” he asked.
“Right,” I said. And I left it at that. Because at that point I wasn’t sure if he thought there was a Queen of Mexico or if he was talking about the Queen Bee of the Killer Bee Hive.
On the morning of President Barrack Obama’s Inauguration, schools here opened a couple hours late because of snow. I had the television on while Snags played with Legos nearby. “Barrack Obama is the first African-American president!” Snags announced. “I know,” I said. “Do you know what that means?” I asked him.
“Ummm… Not really.” Snags said. “I know it means he’s from Africa and somewhere else. I don’t know where.”
I suppose I could have said America. Or Hawaii, and left it at that. Barrack Obama, the President from Africa and Hawaii. But I didn’t want Snags to go around telling people that the new president was from Africa. I like the guy, and he certainly doesn’t need any other rumors spread about him, more ammunition for some of the idiots out there who still claim he’s not a citizen and can’t be our President. Because he is, and YES, he can. And so instead of leaving it at Hawaii, I had to explain to Snags what African-American meant. About skin color, something he really hasn’t registered before. A little bit about our country’s sordid history and slavery and how it was wrong and how everyone is equal and the color of someone’s skin doesn’t matter. Should never have mattered. But that there are still some people in this world, in this country no less, who are mean and think it does matter, but they are wrong. That nobody should be treated differently because of the color of their skin. He understands. And yet he doesn’t. I suppose he will, when he’s older, when he studies American History in school. Right now though, he doesn’t understand the significance of it all. And I can’t decide if that’s good, or if that’s bad. I hope it’s good. I hope it means an entire generation of children, and future generations beyond this one, will grow up not noticing skin color. Or religion. Or sexual orientation. Or any of the other differences that make us interesting, but really, not so different from each other after all.
But back to sex. Snags got some sea monkeys for Christmas. The other day I noticed that two of them were stuck together. They’ve been swimming around that way for days now. My husband thought they swam into each other and got tangled up, that they’d probably die if they didn’t get unstuck. I however, am smarter than that. I did a little internet search and learned that no, they aren’t stuck, they’re mating. They might mate like this for weeks. I probably shouldn’t stare at them, but sea monkey porn, I have to say, is kind of interesting. For one thing, the two little black spots on the one sea monkey aren’t balls, but egg sacs. For another thing, WEEKS?
I made the mistake of pointing this out to Snags: that two of his sea monkeys were stuck together. “Yeah, Dad said they’re gonna die,” Snags said.
“Actually,” I responded, “I looked it up on the internet. They arern’t going to die. They are going to have babies.”
“Really? How?” Snags asked. “Is one a daddy sea monkey and one is a mommy sea monkey?”
“Yes,” I replied.
“But HOW are they going to have babies?” Snags asked.
I had to think about that for a minute. I’d gotten myself into the conversation, but I wasn’t about to get out of it with an explanation of the mating behavior of sea monkeys. Or the mating behavior of birds, or bees, or people for that matter. If I started, there would be no end.
Before I could formulate an answer Snags asked if they were carrying eggs.
“That’s right!” I said. “They swim around like that protecting their eggs! And then when the eggs are ready to hatch they’ll come apart and we’ll have baby sea monkeys! I’m so proud that you figured that out!”
I’m dreading the moment when Snags asks me how the sea monkeys got the eggs in the first place. When he does, I’m going to change the subject back to tarantulas and killer bees. Safer ground, for sure. Even though I know next to nothing about them. Even if it does make my skin crawl.