You Say You Want an Evolution

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"Mommy, Daddy: Where did the first humans come from?" my daughter asked from the back seat.

"Wow, sweetheart," I said, buying a minute to consider how to answer, "What a great question!"

As I’ve mentioned before, my daughter has an uncanny knack for asking questions that my wife and I are completely unready to answer.  She must, we think, be simmering these thoughts in her nearly six-year-old brain for a while, and every now and then one of them bubbles up to the surface.  For some reason, this seems to happen most often when we’re in the car.  So there my wife and I were, trying separately to think of a way to answer that question without overwhelming our little girl with too much information all at once.  Fortunately, neither of us has the slightest doubt about evolution, so we each knew we’d support what the other said.

I explained that nobody knows exactly where and when the first humans were born, but that we know that they came from other animals that aren’t around any more that looked a lot like humans, but weren’t as smart and didn’t walk the same way.  My wife explained that, over a very, very long time, what a particular animal looks like and how it lives change because of where they live and other animals.  I gave a quick example to help her (and my seven-year-old son, who was listening intently) understand natural selection, and explained that humans and apes, like chimpanzees and gorillas, came from the same place, if you look far enough back in time.  We explained that the process is called "evolution," and then they started to ask questions about how the changes happen.  I broke out the answer I hate most to give, which is to tell them that they’ll learn more about it as they grow up, because I just couldn’t handle a discussion about genetics, too.

Now, I was fully prepared for this to segue into a question about how reproduction happens, which I not only wasn’t ready for but really, really didn’t want to have with my son and my daughter at the same time.  We’ve dealt with similar questions before, such as when a friend of ours was pregnant, and my daughter, then 4, wanted to know how the baby would get out of her.  We were so relieved that she hadn’t asked how the baby got in our friend that we answered her as straightforwardly as we could, and told her that the baby would come out of her vulva, since my daughter knew what that word meant.  This led to the embarrassing, but very funny, incident at the church my wife and kids attend, when my daughter said to the very pregnant religious educator, in a voice loud enough that the whole church could hear, "That baby’s going to come out of your vulva!"

But no such question came.  She asked again where the first humans came from, obviously not quite absorbing everything we’d said.  My wife and I patiently explained that nobody knew the answer to that, exactly, because it was so long ago that there was no way to find out for sure.  She seemed satisfied with that, at last.

But I know the next question, whatever it may be, is simmering in her brain.  And I can’t wait to be caught off-guard by it.

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