Of Stars and Ours

NASA forgot to put grandpas on this diagram.

Mbot has been studying the solar system in preschool, and his newfound knowledge has raised some vexing questions.

Let me backtrack to say that although I’m a champion of science, evolution, and telling children the truth, I also believe in Santa Claus and that we just don’t have explanations for everything–like what happens to you after you die. I’m willing to say, “I don’t know.” But it’s more poetic to say, “you turn into a star.” I kind of like the abstract truth, the law of conservation of matter, the ashes to ashes, dust to dust thing, the fact that the molecules that make up my nasal passages today were at some point in time inside stars, and at some point in time will be something else. And so, when Mbot at the age of two asked tearfully where his Grandpa Ferdie, who passed away many years ago, is, I told him he is a star, and I even pointed one out to him, a very bright star in the winter sky.

The subject comes up intermittantly, and came up again this morning on the way to school, when he asked from the back seat, apropos of nothing, “You mean Grandpa Ferdie is a big ball of gas?”

“Yes,” I replied. Kind of because there was no other answer.

Mbot: “Mrs. Pursell said that every star is a big ball of gas.”

“Yes,” I said again.

Mbot: “That means that Grandpa Ferdie is a big ball of gas.”

“That’s right,” I said.

He seemed content with that.

We’ll save the chemistry books for another day.

Yesterday’s Mystery Post, Take Two

Sorry it’s so dark. But it IS a cave. Mbot is modeling the giant bat ears that demonstrate how well bats can hear. So here he is hearing the story of the unlucky sloth, told over and over again, really really loudly.

For those of you who read yesterday’s cryptic post before I discovered that most of it was missing, I apologize. Now, in today’s few bot-free minutes, I will try to recreate it:

11,000 years ago, a sloth fell through a crack. It fell into a cave. It couldn’t get out. It died in the cave.

The kind docent in the Shasta Ground Sloth cave at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum told us this story on Sunday when we were admiring the fossilized skeleton and the ancient sloth poop that I managed to not delete in yesterday’s post.

The bots listened with great concern and then baraged the docent with questions. “Why did he fall through the crack?” (I was going to answer, ‘because it didn’t come when it’s mother called it’ but she beat me with ‘Sloths don’t have very big brains.’) “Why could he not get out?” (There was no door.) “Why did he die?” (Because he couldn’t get out of the cave.) While Mbot tried on a giant pair of bat ears which magnified all the cave sounds, Gbot stood rooted in place beside the docent, craning his neck upward to look at her and repeating the questions. Perhaps hoping for different, better answers. But the answers didn’t change.

On the way home, he retold the story many times.

Gbot: “The three-tailed ground sloth fell through the crack. He fell into the cave. He couldn’t get out and” (voice lowering sadly) “he died in the cave.”

Over the next few days, the story was told over and over again. To Daddy, to Aunt Susan, to Grandma, to Nanny over the phone, to Miss Mary the music teacher. It was obviously sad and disturbing. How was I to know it was going to turn into a story of rescue and redemption?

On Wednesday, from the backseat, Gbot told the story again. “But Mama,” he said, “we could use Bob the Builder’s tools!”

“You’re right!” I exclaimed. “A jackhammer can cut through concrete and rock.”

Gbot: “Yeah, and we could make a door and he would say, ‘What a wonderful door you made, Mama and Gbot,’ and he would go through the door in the cave and he would go home to his mommy. And we would go home and talk about how the sloth fell into the cave and got out the door. And the sloth would say, ‘Thank you for making my door in the cave.'”

I praised his creative solution to the sloth’s big problem. Now, perhaps, we could stop hearing about the sloth in the cave. Although it was awfully cute.

But of course, as all answers do, this one led to another question. After a brief pause from the back seat, Gbot asked, concern edging his voice again,

“What if we were sloths, Mama?”

“We would be careful sloths, Spice Bear,” I said. “And we would always carry jackhammers, just in case.”

More about the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum later this week. There were many moments to savor. Today’s recommendation, which would have been yesterday’s recommendation if my post hadn’t fallen through a crack, is: Go there!