As per usual, but totally not on purpose, I've let my blogging slide a little and haven't posted anything new in awhile. Sorry about that. So, to make it up to you, I'm going to give you a little personal anecdote. I tend to write down things that my son does, that I can include slightly veiled advice, thoughts or insights among a somewhat interesting read. I might even turn this into a weekly thing... we'll see.
Have You Ever Seen an Alien?
As a parent, and even an author, you can imagine I get asked all sorts of questions. Sometimes they are simple ones, you know, the ones you can answer without much thought. Like, for instance, “What’s for dinner?” or “What are we doing today?”
But then there are those few questions that as parents we aren’t exactly sure how to answer. You have to think, wrack your brain and decide if you answer with the truth, with a little white lie or quickly change the subject and hope your child forgets said question and moves on to something else.
Me and my son were driving home from Friday Night Pizza when he asked, “Do you think there are aliens on other planets?” It was dark. The snow was coming down faster than the wipers could swipe it from my windshield. I could barely see the sky and the stars above. And of course, I had no idea how to answer my sons question.
He’d recently seen an alien movie, so his question wasn’t exactly out of the ordinary, it made sense. In the movie, there were aliens on another planet. But when he asked me his question, he wanted a real answer. I didn’t doubt for a moment I could come up with an answer other than the truth. And not even the truth, but rather, what I believed. Sure, in my other life, I weave stories of fiction, which have included novels with Aliens. But when it came to the truth of the matter, was a believer? No. I wasn’t. I didn’t think little green men existed on planets, any planets. Aliens were a creation of fiction made to entertain.
So, I answered simply, “No. I don’t think there are aliens.”
I’m sure if through the darkness I could see my son, no doubt he was frowning, his eyebrows knitted together as he thought about what he’d say next. He’s a thinker. He’s inquisitive and he likes to have things black and white. I know this. As his mother and him being on this earth for as long as he has been, I’ve gotten to know him quite well, so I wasn’t surprised when he said, “Have you ever seen an alien?”
I thought about it. I had seen aliens, in movies, on TV and read about them in books. I knew how the world portrayed them, but in actuality, “No, I’ve never seen an alien.” And that’s what I said. It was the honest truth. Along with the fact that I didn’t think they were real.
“Then how do you know they aren’t real if you’ve never seen one.”
Good question. How did I know they were or were not real? I didn’t have hard evidence to support my claim either way and my son called me on it. He pointed out the simple fact that if I had never seen one, how could I claim they did not exist? Smart kid.
But what happens next? Do I back track and possibly lose my credibility? Do I turn around and say, yes, they do exist, I was wrong. And admit defeat. Or do I back track only a little and say maybe? Or do I quickly change the subject, distract him with the idea of a new conversation topic and hope he forgets?
As parents we want to always tell our children the truth, to the best of our ability. There’s nothing wrong with asking questions, it just sometimes sucks when we’re supposed to know the answer. Or know how to explain the answer in easy to understand children’s terms. And I was stumped. I didn’t know how best to proceed.
“If you believe in aliens, then maybe they do exist.”
That seemed like a safe answer. It did. At the time I could have patted myself on the back and pumped my fist in the air. Not only did I not lie or change my stance on the matter, or change the subject, I gave him an answer I thought he’d accept.
“That’s not an answer. Are aliens real?”
Crap. He really wanted to know if I believed in aliens and if they were real. I don’t know why the question was so hard to answer. I mean, really, why not just say, “Sure, why not.” And leave it at that? He’d move on, and we’d talk about something else. Was this question really one that needed a finite answer?
I took a deep breath and then said three words that as a parent I hate saying. “I don’t know.” I hate saying, “I don’t know,” because it feels like a letdown. I should know the answer. Or if I don’t know, Google will know the answer. And if Google doesn’t know the answer, well, then some random family member will after I post the question on Facebook just to get opinions. But saying I don’t know means that I’ve failed. There is something in the world that my kid wants to know, with determination, might I add, and I don’t have the slightest idea what the answer is. I honestly expected a “Why,” or “How come,” or some other shot to enforce the fact that I had let him down. There was something he wanted to learn and I couldn’t teach him. I honestly didn’t think I’d be taken aback by his answer.
“That’s okay, mom. There are things I don’t know, too.”
I might have even teared up a little. That or it was still the fact that I couldn’t see, the windshield was dotted with splotches of water and snow. My chest definitely tightened, heart squeezed with a constricting grasp because I truly did feel like a letdown mother. Now not only did I not have the answer but I was being consoled by my child. It was sweet. He was trying to make me feel better. But I think that moment also taught me something.
What it taught me was that not all answers are the right ones, and no all questions, from a child, need to be answered. Being honest and saying I don’t know isn’t actually the end of the world. Trust me. I said it and the world, well, it’s still turning just as it should. Sometimes saying I don’t know is actually the better response. It is. Because then you move passed the tough question and the impossible answer and get to the good stuff. My son then spent the rest of the car ride home explaining to me about the aliens that he believed existed. He spoke with such conviction, I almost believed, from his perspective, that those kinds of aliens were real. I discovered then, his imagination. It had no limits. And if I didn't know any better, I would have believed that he’d spent a lot more time than one car ride creating his version of other planets and the aliens that lived on them. His imagination, however, would also get him in trouble later on, no doubt.