Human Parts
Published in

Human Parts

The Tao of the Toddler

Wherein I, a childless woman, answer actual questions of actual children and possibly traumatize them for life

Black and white photo of a young boy holding a moon figure in his hands.
Photo: Jenny Dettrick/Getty Images

Q: “Do bees have lips?”
A: An excellent question, dear child. Bees do not have lips in the same sense that humans do, rather, they have something called a labial palp that are situated on either side of the proboscis. Here is a picture. I am told children enjoy those:

A bee face.

It is good that you are interested in bees, friend, as they are on the verge of a massive die-off event precipitated by human use of pesticides in the growing of our food. You see, sweet babe, because of the industrial scale of food production in this nation, coupled with the demands of capitalism (i.e.: McDonald’s only uses one kind of potato and to stay in business potato farmers can only grow the potato that McDonald’s wants) we do not appropriately rotate our crops, causing myriad issues, from soil erosion to a lack of biodiversity giving rise to pests, which destroy crops, which we use pesticides to destroy, which destroy bees, which also destroys crops. It is amazing we have not suffered a massive food chain collapse, but we will without the bees. Protect them at all costs.

Q: “Why do I have ears on the side of my head and cats have ears on top of their head?”
A: A product of evolution, my dear inquisitive one. Cats are hunters, and must use their finely attuned senses to detect their prey. Ears on top of the head help the animal triangulate a sound and home in on the location of the thing making it. Cats also have multiple sets of eyelids and a keen sense of smell for this purpose. My cat, however, when presented with potential prey such as a massive cockroach or an invading mouse, prefers to approach these intruders as a curiosity to be indifferently batted at in between licking her butt and knocking all my plants onto the floor for no discernible reason.

Q: “Why do you poop from your butt and pee from your penis?”
A: Many people have bemoaned the inefficiency of the human excrement system, and its proximity to the reproductive system (a system which you will no doubt inquire about endlessly once you learn of it). Essentially, humans excrete solid waste via the rectum and anus and liquid waste through the urethra, which in men, is (usually) located at the tip of the penis. If you think it is inefficient, you are correct, young mind. You know what animal does not poop from its butt and pee from its penis? Birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish. They just have one cavity called the cloaca and everything just kind of falls out of there at will. We all crawled out of the same primordial soup, some just chose to go a different way with it.

Q: “How was the Earth made?” “Why are there asteroids in space?” “Why is there no air in outer space?”
A: Your questions about space fall among those of the greatest astrophysicists of our time. Everything we know about space begins with the Big Bang, which occurred about 13.5 billion years ago. That is the farthest back in spacetime we can see, and prior to that event we have no idea what was or was not. Before the Earth was the Earth, it was a protoplanetary accretion disk. You see, the gravity of the Sun caused matter to move around it and spin. The faster the Earth spun, the more matter it accrued and the more gravity it produced, therefore accruing more matter. All the while rocky debris, likely left over from the formation of the gas giants like Saturn and Jupiter, was slamming into the forming planet. Eventually one of those rocks slammed some water into Earth, the atmosphere formed, and evolution began. This is a fairly reductionist retelling of the formation of our pale blue dot, but based on the two astronomy classes I took in college and some cursory Googling, it appears to be mostly correct.

Because we need an atmosphere to create what we call air, a mix of mostly oxygen and nitrogen, and there is no atmosphere in space, there is no air in space. Our atmosphere here on Earth is at great risk because of global warming, and the level of carbon dioxide in the air is on track to create a greenhouse effect, essentially slowly cooking us all alive. Make sure you recycle.

Finally, asteroids exist in space mostly as leftovers from planetary collisions during the planetary formation process. We have several asteroid belts in our own solar system, the Main Asteroid Belt and the Kuiper Belt, both of which orbit the sun. Most of the asteroids we view from Earth come from within our own solar system. However, in 2017, we observed the first ever object from outside our solar system, a strange, oblong object which scientists named Oumuamua — which, roughly translated, means “scout.” This object was unaffected by the gravity of the sun, did not appear to share characteristics with any other observed asteroids, and seemed to be traveling head over heels, so to speak, on its own trajectory. Some scientists speculate that this may have been humanity’s first recorded encounter with possible alien craft, while others think it could have simple been some space junk. Since we were unable to observe it for very long as it passed through our little corner of space, we will never truly know what it was.

Q: “When am I gonna die?”
A: No one knows when our bodies will cease to contain us, young one. Try to greet each day with a gratitude for having been alive to see it, and each night with the comfort of knowing you were thankful for being here one breath more.

If your toddler (or older child, or husband, or sulky teen or whatever) has questions about the universe that you don’t have time or the will to answer, email me at mccauley.alicia@gmail.com and I will answer them, correctly or otherwise.

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A publication from Medium about humanity: yours, mine, and ours.

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Ali Mac

Ali Mac

Midwestern New Yorker. Dog Hugger. Bacon Eater. Bird Watcher.

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