There are moments when I think Colin exhibits what I want to believe is latent cleverness beyond what he could have inherited from either of us. Other times I’m pretty sure his relentless questioning is actually a form of obsessive compulsivity that I’ve seen before (ahem, Mike). Since overt boasting about my kids isn’t really my style, I’m going to assume the later is the more likely possibility.
What happens is this: Colin gets a captive audience, and then sees or hears something (or remembers something) that captures his attention, and then it’s 20 questions. Or 20 billion questions, or whatever it takes to get to the bottom of things, or for me to get out of earshot.
I think, as humans, most of us let about eighty percent of life happen without taking much note of it – we can’t absorb and understand everything, we don’t have the bandwidth. But Colin is amazing in his need to constantly stop and noodle over the smallest details. This tendency makes it difficult to watch a movie with him, and tiresome to ride in the car with him. It could actually drive him insane one day. I know it’s likely to result in my involuntary incarceration in a state run facility before school starts up again.
“Mom, where is this exactly?” He asked once when we were watching Tina Turner and Mel Gibson negotiate terms onscreen.
“I think it’s Australia,” I said, “but that doesn’t matter. It’s supposed to be some post-apocalyptic future where social norms are now totally skewed. It’s why Tina Turner gets to wear chain mail and children are running around with crossbows and stuff.”
“But what caused all this? Why did the world end? How did they get here?”
Seriously, we had to stop Mad Max right in the middle and talk about different scenarios of how the world as we know it might end and how this wasn’t necessarily a bad thing (at least for Hollywood), but rather a device that allows science fiction screen writers the opportunity to imagine a society in which Mel gets to crash up futuristic-looking vehicles and wear repurposed football padding and black leather. We don’t need the whole backstory. It’s just cool. Go with it.
But in this case, the questioning had to go on for another ten minutes or so until the rest of the family lost interest and left to do other things. Colin finally got frustrated with my explanation of the Apocalypse as a potential thematic device, threw up his hands and left.
This trait of Colin’s tends to endear grandparents and teachers who have the time and patience to explain things. Grandpa was proud to share with us recently how Colin just had to know the science and mechanical information behind how a part of an apple tree could be grafted onto another apple tree to make a distinctly different kind of apple. He questions everything. We talk over breakfast about cookie recipes and exactly how lightening works. He quizzes us about conversations he overhears that have nothing to do with him about people he’s never met.
A lot of these conversations happen in the car, spurred by something we hear on public radio. Any coverage of any conflict overseas is going to spur a long conversation about the political structure of that country, how our country interacts with that country, what language they speak, what economic sanctions are, or who exactly are Mohamid Morsi, Basar al-Ashad, or Hillary Clinton. This is not new. It’s been going on for a while.
In the early days of the Occupy Movement in New York, there were some pretty tense moments captured for a news radio story.
“Mom, where is this happening?” Colin asked, as we listened to people yelling for paramedics for some poor guy who was hurt in a melee with the authorities, “Is this in America?”
His question led inevitably to a conversation about the economy and riots and crowd behavior and my attempt to explain the motivation of people who have gathered out of frustration and desperation, but likely without a clear idea of their own ultimate agenda. It gave me a headache and I turned off the radio.
Even topics that I would think would be of significantly less interest to anyone – much less someone still in elementary school – produce a litany of questions. This is why I’ve spent a good portion of my time this week discussing economics, and why I’d like to get a hold of someone in Detroit to give them a good scolding.
Explaining how a municipality can go bankrupt, and what exactly a pension is, while I’m negotiating traffic in 100 degree heat and I’m tired and trying to remember what I was going to fix for dinner and who is going to pick up Jack at the Y makes my head hurt. I think it was just plain thoughtless of Motor City to do this to me.
But right in the middle of my explaining how the auto industry was impacted by the recession, and why they’re pulling up quotes from Obama from the last election, we pull up behind an older black Ford Explorer with a cardboard sign in the rear window.
“Tailgaters are NOT okay. If you want to want to be that far up my A**, you’re going to have to BUY me DINNER first.”
Jack thinks this is hilarious. I’m so relieved to have a question come my way that doesn’t have to do with economics or foreign policy, or require instant recall of a chocolate chip cookie recipe, I about jump out of the car to thank the guy for his crass language. Because, of course, Colin wants to know what the sign means.
“What can I say?” I tell him. “The guy’s got high standards.”