Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Show me bones of scientific significance, I'll show you their butts.

Trying to explain evolution to a preschooler, in the car on the way to the Pacific Science Center to see the Lucy exhibit is probably not the best idea. Mostly they don't get it. Though since we were going to see the amazing bones, and since the discussion with Big Dog last night went so well, I felt I had to try again. This time Big Dog's best buddy S was with us so instead of one 5 year old, I was explaining this to two. And they still didn't get it. They were excited we were going to see skeletons, but sad that people have to die. They were also sad that S's cat recently passed away, sad that S was not allowed to keep one of the elderly cat's teeth that had fallen out before he died and overall very concerned about hot lava. No, that had nothing to do with the cat, but it does seem to be in their minds as a top cause of death despite my attempts to reassure them otherwise.

At least this time it didn't get ugly. Last night, when I was explaining to Big Dog that we were going to see some very special bones. That the bones we were going to see were from a time very long ago. So long ago that people looked more like apes than people. He was fascinated, and as he tried to work out just how long that could be, he thinks of a time long ago and asks, "When you were a baby, mama?" Maybe I need to moisturize more.

Anyhow, we arrived at the exhibit and as much as I was expecting a display about evolution, we walked into a display about the history and diversity of Ethiopia. We met up with our friends, E, J and L and started to walk through. Within minutes the kids are asking about the significance of all of the crosses they're seeing and as much as I'd prepared to discuss evolution, I had not prepped my completely non-religious self to discuss the three largest monotheistic religions to my children. Luckily before any one discussion went too far, I was having the following conversation repeatedly.
"Laura," says S.
"Yes?" I reply "I'm thirsty. I need a drink." he says.
"Ok, as soon as we get out of here, I'll get you something to drink, but look at this exhibit, it's really cool."
After a bit, I got bit more creative. I mix it up.
"Laura," says S.
"Are you thirsty?" I reply.
"Yes," he says.
"Ok, let me know if that changes."
And still later.
"Laura," says S.
"Yes," I reply.
"I'm thirsty. I need a drink."
"Me too, oh, me too."

Finally we make it through the cultural part of the exhibit, and we're into the evolution exhibit I expected. It is much more interactive and the kids are getting into it. They get to play with bones, pick up skulls, and watch computer animated comparisons between chimpanzees, Lucy, and modern man. They dug it. I got my first hint of what was to come when we were watching an animated comparison the muscles chimps, Lucy and modern man use to walk. As the muscle groups were used, they marked those most heavily used in bright red. So as the figures are walking on the video screen, they rotate so they are being viewed from behind and in what could have been a single voice, Big Dog, Little Dog and S all let out a little chuckle. Then Big Dog says "Their butts are red." So we moved along.

We wound our way through the exhibit and joined the line of people waiting to get into the final room where we would get to see the jewel of the exhibit. Lucy. And we waited. For what felt like an eternity, but was probably about 15 minutes. Keep in mind we had 4 preschoolers with us, so it might as well have been an eternity. As we're waiting in line, E is letting the boys touch her very pregnant belly to feel the baby move. S finally asks the big question. "How'd you get a baby in there?" he asks. And we flounder. E suggests that this is a big question and that it is probably best for him to ask his own parents, but S persists. He needs to know. After probing a big, and getting the same unsatisfactory answer again and again, he hazards a guess. "Did it go in your mouth?" Um, no. It doesn't work that way. Luckily, E's 4.5 year old son has an answer and in his young boy voice that carries like nothin' else, he begins to explain. And everyone around us, in this very crowded waiting area gets to be educated. It was hilarious. E stepped in pretty quickly and reminded him that this was supposed to be a discussion kids have with their parents, but it was a great moment in parenting for all of us.

Finally they opened the doors and we got to go in. They boys were very interested in the pictures depicting groups of Lucy-type people and their surroundings. After looking at one for a long time, S looks at me and asks, "Laura, are those her babies?"
"Well," I say,"I'm not sure they're her babies, but the are babies of that group."
"Oh," he says. "I can see their butts."
"Yep, they didn't wear pants, underpants, overall or skirts. Did they? They didn't wear clothes at all." I agreed.
"And I can see their butt cracks," he continued. I think this was big excitement for a 5 year old.

Later, Little Dog picked up on the action. We were looking at the model of what Lucy would have looked like. She was not very tall and looked very much like an ape, but she stood upright and her toes on her feet all pointed forward. As Little Dog and I looked at this, he was clearly impressed.
"Cool, huh?" I asked.
"Yes." he said, still staring at the model. "She has nipples just like me!"
And then he proceeded to tell everyone who came up to look at the model while we were there. Fantastic.
Eventually the bigger boys came to join us. Little Dog pointed out the nipples and the big boys made note. Then they told Little Dog to come around and look at the back.
"You can see her butt!" they told us. Clearly the highlight of the exhibit. Perhaps they would have had a better turn out if they'd advertised it properly. May I suggest "Lucy, the missing link. Check out her ass at the Pacific Science Center."
No, don't tell me, I know. I'm a marketing genius.


AnnetteK said...

Boys. They might just be the missing link.

Mamacat said...

I'm sorry, but the tears in my eyes (from laughter) make it impossible for me to get past the "hot lava" comment in the first paragraph. I'm hoping I get to read the rest of the post (and make it thru) later. LOL

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