Tuesday, May 5, 2009
My 5-Year-Old and Skunks
MY SON: Hey Daddy, why do skunks stink?
Pause. I try to decide if I should just say, “Because,” and end what could be a really long, pointless conversation . . . or if I should answer the question and educate my son.
ME: Well, you see, skunks don’t stink. They spray a liquid that stinks.
MY SON: Why do they do that?
ME: They do that to anyone who looks dangerous.
MY SON: But I’m not dangerous.
ME: But the skunk doesn’t know that.
MY SON: But I’d love the skunk if I saw him.
ME: Listen, if you ever see a skunk, walk away from it. Don’t try to tell it you love it.
MY SON: But I won’t hurt it.
ME: The skunk doesn’t know that. The skunk just sees that you’re big, and if you go toward it, it’s gonna be afraid of you and it’s gonna spray you. And then you’ll stink, and it’s gonna stink to wash all that stink off.
MY SON: But I don’t want him to spray me. What if I just pet him?
ME: Don’t ever pet a skunk. Don’t ever even go near a skunk.
MY SON: But what if I see a skunk?
ME: Have you ever seen a skunk?
MY SON: In cartoons.
ME: Well, skunks are a lot nicer in cartoons than they are in real life.
MY SON: Are skunks bad guys in real life? Should we kill them?
ME: No, skunks aren’t bad guys in real life. And no, we shouldn’t try to kill them.
MY SON: But why do skunks have to spray their stink on people?
Pause. I try to decide if I should just say, “Because,” and end this long, pointless conversation . . . or if I should answer the question and educate my son.
ME: Well, you see, every animal needs a way to protect itself from bigger and stronger animals. Since skunks are so small and can’t really fight, they use their stink to make the other animals run away.
MY SON: So other animals are bad guys and we should kill them?
ME: No, other animals aren’t bad guys. And no, we shouldn’t kill any animals.
MY SON: But if other animals always wanna fight skunks, aren’t the other animals the bad guys?
ME: They’re not bad guys. In order to survive, all animals have to eat, and they usually eat smaller animals.
MY SON: “Other animals” sound like bad guys to me.
ME: Well, maybe they sound bad, but that’s the way life works. Animals can’t just go into a restaurant and order a lunch or a dinner. And they can’t go grocery shopping and cook their own meals either. They have to hunt, beat and eat other living things.
MY SON: Why would another animal wanna eat a skunk if skunks smell so bad?
ME: Well, that’s exactly why skunks stink. They don’t want to get eaten.
MY SON: Sometimes when I go to the bathroom, I stink. Is that so other animals won’t eat me?
ME: I never thought about it that way.
MY SON: When I see a skunk, I know what I’m gonna do.
ME: Walk away like I told you?
MY SON: No. I can make my stink like I do when I go to the bathroom before the skunk can make his stink on me. And then the skunk will run away and not even make his stink.
Pause. I try to decide if I should just say, “Good plan,” and hope my son never bumps into a skunk . . . or if I should respond truthfully and educate my son.
ME: Well, you see . . . Maybe it’s time you ask Mommy about all this.