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Wednesday, July 29, 2009


As we drove home from our afternoon playdate today, BJ asked me, "Mom, are the Quakers really real?"

We don't know any Quakers, though I respect their religion quite a lot. I thought hard, wondering if he might have read something about the Quakers -- he's reading everything in sight now, often right over my shoulder when I'm not always aware of it, so one really has to be careful about things like newspapers and the Internet these days. (Not to mention The New Yorker, which has been directly responsible for recent conversations with BJ about devils, angels, and Hell.) I couldn't come up with anything at all that might have introduced him to Quakers; no recent headlines, news stories, books I've been reading.... not a single thing I knew of that would have anything to do at all with Quakers.

Then it hit me: his oatmeal!

(image courtesy of Quaker Oats Company)
Sure that he must be thinking of Quaker Oats, even though he hasn't eaten any since the spring, I nodded. Just as I was about to launch into a bit of holding forth about religion and history, a small voice in my head offered up that oft-repeated bit of parenting wisdom, Only answer the question being asked. So I said, "Sure, they're real."

"No," he replied, " I mean, are they really real."

"How do you mean?" I asked.

"I mean the Quakers! The people who make earthquakes happen!"

Ah. So we're not talking about anything having to do with hot cereal after all. After explaining that people don't make earthquakes happen, I fielded a few more queries about what one should do during an earthquake. None of this was new -- living in California, with a mother who is terrified by the idea of earthquakes, he's already been given the lowdown more than once. Not surprisingly, he still wanted to know what made earthquakes happen. I talked briefly about pressure building up along fault lines, fairly sure that I was way over his head. Then an analogy occurred to me:

"You know how your back gets itchy, and you ask us to scratch it or move around to scratch it yourself?" (He has recently discovered the bliss of a good back scratching and now requests them on a regular basis.)


"It's kind of like that. Parts of the ground build up with pressure, kind of like getting itchy, until it needs to move to release the pressure, kind of like scratching an itch."

"And then the people who walk on the ground make it itchy again!" he asserted with conviction.

OK, so he's not quite an expert geologist yet. But I have to say I'm relieved that he's not pondering existential questions about a religious faith that dates back to the 1600's. I know my son is a serious and thoughtful child, but I'd be a little worried if he was that serious and thoughtful at age four!


Veronica Lee said...

Hi! I'm visiting from MBC. Great blog.

Jen said...

Thank you for the visit, Veronica! Appreciate your kind words.