© Glendon Mellow, The Flying Trilobite

i’m *so* glad you asked


Wondering and questioning are the heart and soul of secular parenting. The following is a blog within a blog with questions and hypotheses my kids — Connor (now 13), Erin (10), and Delaney (6) — have come out with over the years. Though this page is primarily a personal family record, I’ve obviously invited visitors in, so I’ll try not to include the kind of cutesy-wootsy questions only a parent could love. I’m including it here because the questioning environment we build for our children is among the most important influences on their intellectual development. I’m endlessly fascinated by their questions.

So no, this is not an FAQ. These Q’s are not frequently asked. Each tends to appear only once, giving us just that one chance to react in a way that nurtures and encourages the next question, and the next.

These are not dimly-remembered paraphrases. Each was written down within three minutes of being said. My hope in creating this page is to capture just a little of the electric thrill I get from being the father of three bighearted and curious kids who’ve never heard of such a thing as an unaskable question.


Delaney (age 5-6): “Why can I move my lips to make words but no words come out unless I want them to?”

“What is inside of hair?”

“I know what evolution is, but what makes it work?”

“What would happen if the earth stopped spinning?”

“I know we came from different animals a long time ago, but I always wonder what kind of creatures will live after us. Are the scientists trying to figure that out?”


“What makes gravity?”

Connor (age 3) made a stick man with his first two fingers, then brought them down into the palm of his other hand. “That’s gravity, Dad.” He then made the stick man jump off the palm. “THAT’S not gravity. That’s the jumpin’.” Brought the man down again. “And that’s gravity again.”


Erin (age 3): “I was wondering one thing. How does the sky know when it’s morning?”

Delaney (age 4): “Do monkeys have vaginas?”

Dad: “Well…about half.”

[I love the underlying question in that one: “Are we really just animals?”]

linky jellies

Connor (age 6): “Dad, I know there are planets and they go around the sun, and I know there are stars further out, and I know those are suns too. But what is out past the stars?”

As we drove home from his football practice, Connor (age 12) asked why time slows down as you go faster. Our velocity through space plus our velocity through time equals the speed of light, I said, so the faster you go through space, the slower you necessarily go through time.

In less than five seconds, Connor said, “So light doesn’t experience time, then.”


Delaney (almost six): “Dad, remember how you said there’s a number called ‘pi’ a little bigger than 3 — like, ‘one, two, three, pi, four, five’?”

Dad: “Yup.”

Delaney: “Are there any letters like that? Like a letter in-between C and D?”

DELANEY (6, after ten silent seconds staring at our bathroom scale): I wonder how people in places like Africa and India weigh themselves if they don’t have scales.

DAD: Hm. I never even thought about that. Any ideas?

(Five seconds pass.)

DELANEY: I know! They could sit on a long tree branch and see how far down it bends.

DAD (recombing his hair): Holy cow, Lane. That would totally work.

ERIN (9): And they could say, “‘I weigh branch-halfway-down. How about you?’ And the other guy says, ‘I ate too much. I weigh branch-on-ground.'”


DELANEY: Or they could put carvings on the tree trunk to see how far down it goes.

DELANEY: I know people get names from their moms and dads. Like McGowan is my name because it’s your name. But how did the very first name get started?


Erin (age 8): “Why did people a long time ago believe the people who started talking about God?”


Connor (age 4): “Is God pretend?”

Dad: “Some people think he’s real and some think he’s pretend.”

Connor: “Well I think he’s real, but we can’t find out because he lives in the sky. What about Jesus? Is Jesus pretend?”

Dad: “Same thing. Some people think he’s real and some think he’s pretend.”

Connor: “Well I think he’s real. And we can figure out if he was real or not because he walked on the ground.”

[So at age four, apparently, kids can understand the difference between empirical and non-empirical questions.]


Mom: “Connor, why don’t we learn another Bible verse for your Sunday school?” (long ago, obviously)

Connor (4): “Hrmpphhh.”

Mom: “Okay here’s one: ‘Accept one another.’”

Connor: “Ex-et on another.”

Mom: “No, ‘ACK’. Like an ‘A’. ‘AC-cept one another.’”

Connor: “Act like an A — accept one another.”

(Three minutes later.)

Connor: “I know another Bible verse – ‘Fee, fie, foe, fum.’”

The day before kindergarten began, Connor listed the things he wanted to learn about and I wrote them down:

Dinosaur bones and fossils
Rockets and space
Jet airplanes
Knights in shining armor
Beating bad guys
Body parts, like hearts and lungs
How people make shoes
How to read and write
How to build buildings
What is on the inside of cars that makes them run
What’s fabric made of

Then out came this:

“And I want to learn if God is pretend or if he’s real. I kind of think he’s pretend. But how will we ever know? Some people think he’s real and they can see his face on the moon and his body is the clouds…Maybe he IS real, cause in battles, the good guys usually win, because God helps them win.”

Dad: “Okay. But the bad guys do win sometimes. Why does God let that happen?”

Connor (with a smile and a shrug): “Well, he does love everybody, even bad guys.”


(Listening to Glück’s Dance of the Furies on the car radio.)

Dad: “Hey Con, you know what this piece is about?”

Connor (age 5): “No, what?”

Dad: “In the Greek myths there were these horrible creatures with wings, and the gods would send them down to torment people who the gods didn’t like. The name of the piece is ‘The Dance of…’”

Erin (almost 3, bug-eyed and aghast in her car seat): “But God is NICE! God wouldn’t do rude things!”

Dad: “Oh sweetie, I’m talking about a different god, one that people believed in a long time ago.”

Erin: “Oh. Not the regular god.”

Dad; “No.”

Erin: “Good. Not the Minnesota God. He didn’t send creatures down to eat people.”

Dad: “Of course not.”

[Dad quickly hides the Old Testament.]

Delaney (age 6): “Dad, are the scientists trying to figure out if God is real or not?”

(What a FASCINATING conversation we had after that!)


We drove past a church with a funeral under way. In front were the cars in the cortege, each with a small orange flag marked FUNERAL on the hood.

“Mom,” Connor (age 3) asked, “who will put the flag on our car when we die?”

Connor, age 5, suddenly got huge eyes at the dinnertable. He walked around and whispered to me, “What if Santa dies? Then there won’t be any more Christmas!”

Dad: “Uh…uh…uh…well, he’s been around for hundreds of years. He must be a…well, maybe he’s a different kind of person.”

Connor: “Oh. You mean some people live forever?”

Dad: “Well…no, everybody dies.”

Connor: “Then someday Santa will die, too!”

Dad: “Oh, I know! Maybe he’s like the Dread Pirate Roberts. When Santa gets old and tired, maybe he picks someone else to be Santa!”

Connor: “Yeah! I bet so. Wait a minute…there’s one problem to that. Santa looks the same every time we see him.”

Dad: “Well, maybe there’s only been one Santa during our lifetimes. He hasn’t gotten old and tired yet.”

Connor, with skeptical eyes: “Mm hmmm…mm hmmm…”

Delaney (age four): “Who will put my blankie on my grave when I die?”


A five-year-old boy was killed in a nearby town — hit by an SUV as he ran across the street toward his schoolbus. This affected Erin (9) very deeply. After considering it for some time, she said, “I just think it’s so strange how we don’t know what is going to happen next. Like that boy — when he left his door that morning, he wasn’t thinking, ‘I’m about to die.'”


Dad: “Do you know why I love you?”

Connor (age 4): “Yup. Because I’m smart and handsome.”

Dad: “Nope. It’s because you’re my boy. I’ll always love you no matter what.”

Connor (pushes up the tip of his nose with his finger): “Would you still love me if all my boogers were squirtin’ out at you?”


Connor (age 6, after we found out Delaney was on the way): “I think Mom will have five or six babies.”

Dad: “Actually, we’re planning to have just three.”

Connor: “Even if you’re planning, five or six might grow!”

Dad: “Well…no Con, actually we decide how many kids we want to have and then we stop.”

Connor: “How does that work? You mean you wish for a baby and it starts growing?

(wavering organ chord)

Dad: “Well, no. When Mom and Dad decided to have you, Dad put a seed in mom to make a baby grow.”

(Brief pause.)

Connor: “No you didn’t!”

Dad: “Yes, I did!”

Connor: “How does THAT work?”

(wavering organ chord a half step higher)

Dad: “Well, when Mom and Dad decide to have a baby, Dad puts his penis in Mom’s vagina and that’s how the seed gets in by the egg. When you’re a grown-up man, your penis will work in two different ways: it will still make pee-pee, but it will also make baby seeds. So the penis puts the seed in, and the seed goes in and finds the egg, and when the seed and the egg come together, a baby starts to grow.”

(Dad wipes sweat from brow with beach towel.)

Connor (with a look of complete wonder and awestruckitude): “That’s so cool!!”

Dad: “Yeah! And the coolest thing is that the baby is half the mom and half the dad. You and Erin are both exactly half Mom and half Dad. Even though you grew in Mom’s tummy, half of everything you are came from me.”

Connor: “Oh, I get it! Cool!”

Dad: “So a few months ago we decided to have another baby, and I put the seed in Mom’s vagina and the baby started to grow.”

Connor (suddenly brow-knitted): “I didn’t ever see you do that.”

Dad: “Oh…well, it was at night, when you were asleep.”

Connor: “And were you asleep too?”

Dad: “No, we were awake. At least I know I was.” (rimshot)



Erin (at 10): “I know there are Democrats and Republicans — but who gets to have their way?”

Mom: “Now Connor, use a brain while you’re playing up there.”

Connor: “Okay fine. I’ll use a brain like Stegosaurus.”


Erin (age 4): “Mom, what does ‘pretty’ mean?”

Mom: “It means you like the way something looks.”

Erin: “Oh. Okay. So what does ‘pretty long’ mean?”