I’m enjoying my moment as sage to the toddlers. I welcome any query but prefer ones that begin and end with “why.” Special marks are granted for those with no possible answer. “Where is the purple horse we never drive to visit my friends in Mexavania?” “Why don’t the feet of my snake picture have a doggy face, why?” “Which kind of pasta is sushi?” “What do sick dinosaur bunnies eat to get better?” Addressing questions such as these is taxing but rewarding. I get a close view of toddler reason, a ridiculous fun-house of mirrors jacked up on toothpicks of jabberwocky atop a steep, muddy hillside. Answer just so and what didn’t make any sense in the first place collapses under its own weight. Toddlers don’t waste a precious moment caring about the smoldering ruins of their own preposterous muse. While I’m still rummaging around in the smoky rubble trying to salvage some sense of things, they’ve moved on to feeding vanilla banana pizza to their regurgitating dinosaur bunnies.
I admire the flexibility of a mind that can conjure such fantastic mental constructions. Toddler brains soak up the world so easily, squish it about like warm play-dough, and fling it back out with beguiling abandon. If their minds are sponges, mine is a crusty barnacle, but not to my toddler. To her I am the Wizard of Oz, a genius oracle in a land of little people and their purple horses. As Wizard I am capable of answering any of her questions and possess the secret knowledge of which battery goes in which toy. She hasn’t noticed the slow-witted man behind the curtain, yet.
I am that man. There is a certain intellect I admire and do not possess. I’m talking about the type that retains what it learns and has rapid recall—the walking stores of knowledge always ready with relevant fact, current event, or historical reference. Those endowed with one can converse on any topic, are comfortable at a party of strangers, and understand what’s happening in distant lands with all its geopolitical implications and socio-technological consequences. They are true Wizards, with brains like encyclopedias and blazing Google-like search capacity.
I’m not one of them. More Scarecrow than Wizard, my brain has little in it. It is like an index to a book I lost long ago. You ask me a question my brain will not tell you not an answer but where to look it up. Not right away, mind you, but after the last echo has quieted in my scull, my brain will return, “You won’t find it in here buddy. Try next door.” This brain is adequate for research (good thing, that’s my job) but not so good for conversation. Social situations can be tricky for minds like mine. On a good night, among friends, I can pop off a one liner or two. A few people think I’m funny but even they can’t imagine how empty my noggin is. An index doesn’t take much space. Some entries refer to pages I’ve never seen. I’m completely useless when conversation turns to sports, for example. I hear the words but they make only slightly more sense to me than doggy-faced snake sushi in Mexavania.
How did this happen? I have attended school for more years than I have not. I learned many things, most of little use. Among the useful things I learned is the idea that the more I know the more I realize what I don’t know. I stayed in school until I learned so much that I came to realize that relative to knowing everything, the difference between what I knew and knowing nothing was hardly anything. That’s when I lost the book. It flew out the window of my mind in an existential twister. I had just enough wits to hang on to the index as page after page was sucked into oblivion.
The beautiful thing about life with kids is that they couldn’t care less about what’s in my head so long as I still have the wherewithal to do what I am told. The other beautiful thing about life with kids is that social gatherings always need someone to keep an eye on the children (and do dishes). When I’m done with the dishes and find myself incapable contributing to the conversation I can always find a role in the playroom. So long as I obey the Byzantine set of rules I can stay there and play Wizard for another moment. I may not understand the strange world of toddlers but I do know that I don’t have to look anything up. The answer is “Dinosaur bunny is sick because he doesn’t eat vanilla banana pasta. Try giving him doggy-faced snake sushi and get him to that Mexivanian hospital quick!”