July 27, 2016 by Lyn
Kailani, age 5:
She was, her kindergarten teacher said, inquisitive. It was said in that air of an adult trying to say something above her head, a sensation she was already very familiar with and already disliked strongly.
Teachers, she found out, didn’t like being told either of those things. It didn’t surprise her much: adults, in general, seemed to get weird and a little bit cranky when they spent too much time talking to her. She didn’t think it was fair; it wasn’t her fault she was smarter than they thought she ought to be.
But after her time sitting in the corner (she knew by now not to ask what that was supposed to accomplish), she found she still had questions. Miss Able didn’t seem likely to answer anything else today (“Why is water wet?” hadn’t gone over so well), so she saved them for home. Moonchild had always been willing to give her answers.
“Why is water wet” stumped her mother, too, but she answered as she always did when she wasn’t certain: “I don’t know, pumpkin, why don’t we look it up at the library this Saturday?” Kai liked that answer; it meant more time in the library.
But she could try her other questions in the meantime. “Other kids in school have a mom and a dad,” she started, “Joy and Amy and Todd and all three Johns. And some have two moms, or just a dad, or two whole sets of parents. How come I only have you?”
“Fathers are superfluous in the modern age,” Moonchild answered airily. “They’re a holdover to a more barbaric time.” And then, while they snapped beans for dinner, she explained “superfluous” and “barbaric.”
Telling Joy that her brand-new barrettes were superfluous and Big John that he was barbaric did not go over well the next day with Miss Able.
Kailani, age 6-and-three-quarters:
Miss Kelly, the swim instructor, was more patient than Miss Able had been with Kai’s questions. She seemed to have quickly picked up Moonchild’s “library” answer, and wielded it skillfully when Kailani got distracted from class. “Why doesn’t the sun burn itself up?” had been the tough one today – Kai, a natural redhead, had been slathering herself with sunscreen to avoid a repeat of last week’s painful sunburn. Obviously the sun burned things, even if “things” in this case was just “Kai.”
But one question even she would neither answer nor suggest the library for, and Kai found herself snapping beans for dinner again and hoping Moonchild would have a more immediate answer.
“Big John lost his shorts in swimming class today,” she began.
“Mm-hrm?” Moonchild had been like that a lot, recently, not really paying attention until pressed. But if kept talking, presumably she would eventually get an answer.
“They fell off in the water. Miss Kelly said he and Todd were horsing around too much.” Horsing around, like most forms of having fun, seemed to be something you weren’t supposed to do around teachers of any stripe; the learning itself was supposed to be the fun part.
“He must have been embarrassed.”
“A little.” That was confusing; Moonchild had taught her that there was nothing wrong with the human form or with nudity in its place. The public pool must not be the place for it, she supposed. “I guess he didn’t like getting caught breaking the rules. But he looked different naked than I do.”
“Hrm? What?” Moonchild set down the kitchen knife. “What do you mean, Kailani?”
“He looked different. He had a… protuberance. How come?”
“A protu- oh. Well, Kai, males and females of the species are put together a little differently.”
“Oh, like the way grown-up women have bumpy chests and grown-up men don’t?”
“Yes, like that.”
“Why? Why would people be built so differently?” She meant, too, why does everyone think I’m so strange? Isn’t having some sort of extra finger stranger than just being kind of smart?
“Variety is the spice of life,” Moonchild told her, instead of an answer. “Every variation serves a purpose. Red hair and pale skin came from places where there wasn’t much sun, dark skin and hair from places where there was more.”
That reminded Kailani of her other question. “So why doesn’t the sun burn itself up?”
“Well, it is burning itself up, in a manner of speaking, but it’s just taking a very long time to do so…”
Kai, age seven-and-a-half:
The mama cat was pregnant. The big black-and-white cat had been a stray, but she’d followed Kai home from school one day and, with atypical persuasiveness, she’d managed to convince Moonchild to let her keep it.
And now she was pregnant, and there would be more cats, and she’d been promised she could keep at least one of them. They’d been reading up on how to care for kittens, and on pregnancy, and how baby cats were born. It put the whole thing from last summer with Big John’s shorts into perspective, an interesting, confusing perspective that sent Kai into the grown-up section of the library when her mother wasn’t looking.
The book she’d found had a lot of words she didn’t yet know, which had led to the giant abridged dictionary, which led to the librarian asking if she needed help, which led to “and why are you looking up ‘menstruation?’” which led to a big fuss with Moonchild. Kai didn’t understand what the problem was. Knowledge was knowledge, right? But, while Moonchild stood up to the librarian for her, once they got home, there was a lecture about age-appropriate knowledge.
Age-appropriate knowledge was an entirely new concept. It seemed to say that there was some stuff children shouldn’t know that adults got to, and that the turning point was somewhere in a person’s teens. The stuff seemed to have to do with reproduction, and with the difference in Big John’s shorts, and where baby cats came from.
She’d already read enough to be curious, however, and to begin putting one and one together. Making kittens took a mama cat and a daddy cat. Making people took a mommy human and a daddy human. That meant fathers couldn’t be entirely superfluous.
Moonchild wasn’t being very forthcoming about the topic, though, so Kai concentrated on other topics for a while. There were horseback riding lessons to distract her, and school, although Mrs. Kendall didn’t really know what to do with her either. There was the school library, which wasn’t as exciting as the public library (no grown-up section) but was a good way to spend some time when she’d gotten ahead on her work again. And once a week there were special classes with Mrs. Dawson and other “gifted and talented’ children, which was the best part of the week.
In the end, she asked Mrs. Dawson about it, because she was sure Mrs. Kendall wouldn’t answer her: “Does everyone have a father?”
“Everyone has a father,” Mrs. Dawson confirmed. “Sometimes, the father is part of their life. Mr. Dawson and I have two children, and we raise them together, for example. But sometimes children only live with their mothers, or with their fathers. Or, like Liam, with a grandparent.”
“And that’s just the way it is?” It didn’t seem to make sense, but she trusted Mrs. Dawson to be honest with her.
“Well…” The teacher got that expression that usually meant she was going to be told to ask her mother later. “When two people are married, it is because they love each other and want to be together, as a couple. Sometimes they find that this doesn’t work out for them the way they’d hoped, and they go their separate ways. If they already have children together, often one parent or the other will retain custody-” she hesitated, and Kai nodded.
“I know that word.”
“All right, then. Retain custody of the children.”
So everyone had two parents, but sometimes they only lived with one. Maybe she wasn’t that unusual, after all.
Kai, age ten:
She came home crying. She hated it, hated crying, hated getting all worked up, because everyone kept telling her that she was supposed to just let it all roll off of her, and that would make them stop.
Moonchild was in the kitchen, but she heard Kai slam the door and came out into the living room. “Kailani, I’ve told you not to slam the… sweetie, what’s wrong?”
Moonchild hugs were warm and safe and comforting, but today it wasn’t enough. Kai sniffled, trying to get the sobs under control, but it was too much. “Joy,” she sobbed, “Joy and Amy and, and, and Todd.” Todd, who she’d always thought was kind of nice, and had really nice blue eyes.
“Oh, honey, what happened?”
“They, they…” She swallowed hard and tried to talk clearly. “They said I’d never have a boyfriend. That no-one liked me.”
“I’m sure that’s not true,” Moonchild reassured her. “They were just being mean. You get along fine with John and Katy, don’t you?”
“Yeah,” she sniffled. “And Mary and Deanna, sometimes. But they said I was an ugly stupid know-it-all! And they said I’d never have a boyfriend,” she reiterated.
“Well, you’re certainly neither ugly nor stupid. You knew that, right, punkin?”
“I’m not stupid,” she nodded. “I’m a lot smarter than Joy. She can’t spell at all!”
“And you’re lovely.”
“I guess.” She was beginning to learn that some things her mother said because mothers had to say such things.
“And as for never having a boyfriend, well, their basic premise is flawed. But you don’t really need a boyfriend for anything, anyway.”
“I don’t?” She wasn’t really sure what they were for, anyway, except for some level of social clout: the girls that had boyfriends were the ones who were the most popular. She had a vague feeling all that talk about kissing had something to do with the mama-cat daddy-cat stuff she’d read up on, but she wasn’t really sure how, and, considering how sub-literate her classmates were, she was pretty sure they didn’t understand it either.
“You don’t,” Moonchild confirmed. “Boyfriends are superfluous in the modern age, Kailani. Be strong within yourself and proud of who you are. No-one else’s opinion matters but your own.”