I was trying to explain to my son the other night why it wasn’t possible to reach the moon for him, and for that I blame Eric Carle. You know who Eric Carle is, he’s the author who penned “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” and “Brown Bear Brown Bear What Do You See?” among many other dozens of childrens books.
Eric Carle wrote a book called “Papa, Please Get the Moon for Me” and it’s about this father who uses a very tall ladder to reach the moon for his daughter, who plays with the moon until it gets smaller and smaller and finally disappears altogether.
I had no idea my son took the book so entirely to heart until his earnest little face was imploring me to please PLEASE get a tall ladder and reach the moon for him. I stood there perplexed, trying to figure out the exact best way to explain how far away the moon is, how large it is in comparison to our family room, and how woefully inadequate a ladder would be in the task of trying to reach it.
It felt like shuffling a giant Rolodex in my brain. What to explain first? How the moon orbits the Earth and is 27% its size? Should I illustrate this with a marble and a soccer ball? Is it possible to explain the endless vacuum of space to a preschool-aged child? What about astronauts, is now the time to discuss space shuttles and space suits? It seems like it might be a bit morbid to explain what would happen to me if I tried to climb a ladder into space, how I’d die, frozen to death, my body draped across the rungs of the ladder far short of ever even reaching the moon. Plus, how a ladder that long would break under its own weight.
When I’d stared at my child for a good long time, I finally arrived at an approach I deemed suitable for my child’s stage of mental development: I told him I couldn’t reach the moon because I didn’t have a spaceship. When he asked why, I explained how you need a vehicle appropriate for the terrain you’re traveling and used the example of how you wouldn’t try to fly with a dump truck. Likewise, you wouldn’t try to reach the moon without a space ship.
He seemed satisfied, we watched a few YouTube videos of space shuttle launches, and everyone was happy.
Still, his questions reminded me of why I never did as well on tests in school as I should have, given my intelligence (this isn’t boasting. I really am quite intelligent). I over-think almost everything. My child’s simple question exploded my head into a debate about whether it was too soon to explain Newtonian physics to him, when all I needed to do was show him a space shuttle and explain that I didn’t have one.
One of these days, my son is going to realize that I over-think and perhaps over-explain everything and he’s going to start shepherding my answers. He’ll roll his eyes and tell me, “Mom. Short answer” and have no idea the pretzels he’s twisting my brain into as I try to condense all the thoughts clattering through my head into small, cogent responses.
For now, though, I’ll just try to remember that the best answers for preschool-aged boys usually tend to contain trucks or vehicles of some sort.