“Mom… when are we going to get a book about the body?”
It’s a frequent refrain these days, a question that has blossomed into our lives like the pink flowers on the tree outside our bedroom window. What we need, Luci decided some weeks or maybe a month ago, is a book. A book that explains, in good detail, precisely the invisible and mysterious world underneath our skin.
We have two such books, I pointed out at first, motioning to the shelves where said books were located.
“Not those books,” Luci replied. “Those are books just about babies. And how boys and girls are different. I need a book about the whole body.”
So these reproduction-for-preschoolers books wouldn’t do, and neither would various episodes of the Magic School Bus or Story Bots. It had to be a book, and had to be the whole body.
I took to the online catalogue for Seattle Public Libraries, and placed a few holds. The first one to come in was a book about the bones of animals, which she peruses now while waiting for lunch to appear.
“We need a book about the inside of people!” she comments, looking up the tiny skeleton of the Etruscan shrew, the smallest boned animal. She turns pages, interested in spite of herself, until she comes to the X-ray of a human, a skeleton standing on the page.
“Here it is!” she says. “A person! Look at it!”
I smile at this curious little anatomy student, thinking how a skeleton like that would have made me shiver as a kid, thanks to some irresponsible Halloween decorations and cultural messaging. I’m glad she’s not afraid of it, and frankly a little amazed.
I once expressed that my greatest fear was reaching a point when I was no longer learning anything. Now that I have children, there are a few more practical, child-related fears at the top of that list, but the learning plateau continues to loom in the background, especially in this season. I guess I’m still learning lots, I concede, but is it really enough to be learning which is the best diaper cream or the quickest way to Trader Joe’s through the labyrinth of industrial Ballard? Perhaps it is, but sometimes I have doubts.
It’s usually at precisely those moments when my oldest daughter asks me about human anatomy, or math, or astronomy, or any number of the subjects that I only glanced over in my own education, years ago. Looking up from her library book where she sits across from me in the little breakfast nook, Luci asks me a series of bone-related questions:
“Does your hair have bones?”
“Is the fluff the bones for stuffed animals?”
“Do you have bones in your hands? How about your feet?”
“What are the bones in your feet called?”
The last one gives me pause, and at first I tell her I have no idea what the bones in your feet are called. And then, like magic, a word floats to the surface.
“Tarsals. And metatarsals. And… phalanges.” (Thank you, Pheobe Bouffay.)
“Phalanges,” Luci giggles.
The kitchen is our classroom, her questions our curriculum. And I’m reminded of the contagion of curiosity, the way that a room full of students with only lukewarm feelings on a topic can wake up with the leavening of one child’s interest, one inspired question. I turn over facts that made no impression on me in Human Bodies 101, or whatever non-science students took in university, little details that come alive on my daughter’s fascinated face. I remember that this is why I love school—loved school—and why I’ll let her go there soon, too soon. So we can keep learning together, so she can hear and ask questions of others, exploring the rich world of all that there is to know.
And so, of course, she can finally know precisely why hair doesn’t need bones.