There’s a popular forum on the Reddit online service called ‘‘Explain Like I’m Five,’’ in which redditors pose difficult and esoteric questions whose settled answers are beyond their comprehension, and ask their fellows to simplify these answers to the point where a five year old could follow them.
Parenting is a long-running game of ‘‘Explain Like I’m Five’’ (actually, it starts with ‘‘Explain like I’m a pre-verbal infant,’’ and I imagine it ends somewhere around ‘‘Explain like I’m a post-adolescent young adult’’). My daughter, Poesy, is six, and she’s turned me into a skilled player of ‘‘Explain Like I’m _______,’’ starting when she was about two and a half and found out about death and was consumed with existential terror. For about a year – a very long, very difficult year – I found myself explaining death and the circle of life, over and over again, to my kid. It’s the only time I’ve ever regretted being an atheist. I’m pretty sure that if I’d floated the idea of harps and robes and eternal paradise in a cloudy heavenscape, I could have avoided a lot of grief. But it was worth it, if only for the weird misunderstandings that my attempts engendered, like when we visited a friend’s farm and Poesy explained that the celery in the garden was made of dead people.
Since then, we’ve tackled a variety of substantial topics, from globalism, to climate change, to racism, to the Holocaust, to evolution, to the Enlightenment, to monarchism, to cosmology and quantum uncertainty. We talk about Ukrainian politics and we talk about global aviation logistics. We talk about Chinese labor migration and we talk about proportional systems of governance.