Musings from Home

And I Call Myself a Scientist

At least I don’t call myself a teacher. But I guess I am one of those, too. And I find myself having to explain things I have never imagined would come up in conversation. But they do . . .

Last week, as Sapphire and I were in the car coming home from her preschool, [it seems all of our deepest conversations occur in the car when I am driving and unable to look anything up], we started talking about pierced ears. You see, it was “J Share Day” at her preschool, which is the day on which the kids bring in an item that begins with the letter of the week. Last week was “J Week” and Sapphire had taken in her American Girl Doll, Julie. Julie has pierced ears. Sapphire does not. I have set the age at which my girls can decide to get their ears pierced (or not, if they wish) at 8. Emerald decided to get hers pierced at 8 1/2; she wasn’t quite sure she wanted to when she turned 8. As you know, Sapphire is not yet 8.

Sapphire looked at Julie’s earrings and asked why she had to wait until she was 8 to get her ears pierced. I know many people believe the answer to such questions should be, “because I said so”, but Jim and I believe in answering our kids’ questions, just not debating our decisions with them. So I told her that I think a child should be able to make that decision when she is old enough to understand that it may hurt to have her ears pierced, old enough to keep the new piercings clean, and old enough to take responsibility for her decision if the piercings become infected, as they may.

She didn’t argue with any of that. She just asked what “infected” meant. So I answered that question, too, mentioning that an infection is usually caused by bacteria.

That’s when she said very sweetly, “I wonder what bacteria are.”

Well, I didn’t get my Ph.D. in Microbiology/Virology for nothing. I know what bacteria are — and can explain it — or so I thought.

After my explanation, my precious girl asked if bacteria were bad. I told her that I guess you could say that some types were “bad” as in they could make us sick, but some were very helpful. Perhaps I should’ve stopped there, but alas, I did not. I went on to explain that there were some very helpful bacteria in her (and everyone else’s) tummy and I explained how they are beneficial and what happens if there aren’t enough of them.

Then came the question I didn’t expect: “Is my tummy scary?”

“Is it scary? No, not really.”

“Are they scared in there?” Oh!

So then I tried to explain that although they were alive, they were not like animals that have eyes, etc. I told her I doubt they feel scared.

I tried to liken them to plants, but I quickly felt out of my domain, trying to differentiate living things to a 5-year-old.

Luckily, she let it drop. I think she lost interest, or at least didn’t have any more questions. And so far, no one has asked for my Microbiologist badge back. I’m hoping that they won’t. In a few days, I may even feel comfortable enough in that to venture out in public again, without looking over my shoulder for the science instruction police. 🙂

And then I’ll just hope that Sapphire doesn’t ask me about viruses for a while. That could be really embarrassing! 🙂

Perhaps I’ll learn to keep my answers very short and not give her information she didn’t ask for. Who am I kidding? That wouldn’t be me; I try to give complete answers. I just don’t have the imagination and perspective of a very bright 5-year-old. But I hope I’m learning.

I bet Sapphire never realized that she is also a teacher.

Have you ever had to explain things you thought you knew very well to little ones? How did it go?

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Comments on: "And I Call Myself a Scientist" (1)

  1. Microbiology is so fun to explain to younger people – the good, the bad, and the ugly. My kids have been mini-microbiologists for so long that on a Mother’s Day card two years ago, my daughter wrote “I love you because you let me inoculate bacteria.” My kids get to come to my research lab and help me start cultures and pipette. So they have high respect (I think) for bacteria. Funny thing is, good or bad, as much as they love doing experiments, they do not want to be scientists when they grow up! Keep up the good work. There are some really cute stuffed microbe “animals” out there now. Maybe Sapphire is ready to cuddle up with one.

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