By Ian Campbell
It happened on one of those cheerful spring days several years ago. Birds were chirping, the weather was pleasant, and I was filled with a deep sense of contentedness. My wife was busy at something she enjoyed, the kids were in their rooms, playing. A deep peace had settled over my house. I picked up a book and started to read. I had just turned the flyleaf over when my four-year-old came racing down the hall and into the living room. He was wearing nothing but Lightning McQueen jockey shorts, and he had two plastic swords rammed into the back of his waistband in a criss-cross, each leg-hole emitting the tip of one of the swords. His trajectory clearly indicated that I was to be his ultimate destination. I put down my book carefully marking my place on the Title Page. As he pulled up to a stop directly in front of me, his older brother came sauntering out of the hallway in that languid way he has and made for the kitchen.
I blurted out “Where are your clothes? Why are there swords jammed in your underpants? What is going on?” The last question I wailed in my confusion.
“Yeah, he does that sometimes,” came the disinterested voice of my older son floating out of the kitchen—the parents are always the last to know. When I looked back down at Naked Conan the Streaker, he was studying—really studying—his nipples. He kind of poked one and, without looking at me, he asked “what are these for?”
A bolt of fear shot through me. I think it was a rhetorical. “I’ll let the Uncaring Universe answer his question,” I thought to myself. But, then he raised his eyes to meet mine, and then slowly raised his left eyebrow in perfect imitation of his mom.
Shit! Now I was on the spot. I took a deep breath and said, “They’re for decoration.”
“Well, that wasn’t my best shot,” I thought to myself, but he seemed happy and ran off. The eyes of Lightning McQueen printed on his underpants were strategically placed with one on each of his buns. So Lightening McQueens eyes glared at me judgmentally as they skittered back down the hall.
“Phrew. That was a close call,” I thought.
# # #
Several weeks had passed since the decorative nipples explanation. As a family, we were walking across a parking lot when my youngest pulled to a stop at a red-painted curb and asked “What’s this for?” It was so hot outside, and I just wanted to get into the Mall, so I used it again.
“It’s for decoration.” I could feel the scornful eyes of Lightning McQueen glaring at me, but fuck him.
My son was entirely satisfied.
As the years have rolled on, I have taken to using this as my default response, especially when I plain don’t know the answer. The best part is, sometimes it is the correct answer and these times are like a little hit of heroin that keeps me using the bogus explanation in desperate hope that it will happen again.
So, the arcane knowledge that you leave with is that the answer “it’s for decoration” can address any unanswerable question a 5-8 year-old may ask. Go forth now, and use this knowledge wisely. Teach those who are ready, prepare those who are not.
Originally published on Radio Freely by Ian Campbell. Republished with permission.
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