With Apologies to Paleoanthropology

...over the last couple of weeks ellie has asked me a few times, "mommy, where did all of the people in the world come from?"...i'm not sure what's sparked her curiosity in the earth's population because each time i ask why she wants to know she just shrugs...ah, four year olds, dude...

...the first time she asked i said, "they come from mommies" thinking this question was a variation on "where do babies come from?"...was i quickly rebuked...

"no mommy," she said, "the first people. where did they come from, like a hundred years ago?"

...again, i let my intellect impede what should have been straightforward...she'd been watching pocahontas with her dad and some reruns of bonanza (yes, we encourage such wonderful TV time!) so i thought she was talking about european migration...

"the indians were here first," i said, "then people from spain and england sailed over the ocean and came here"
Look, Mom, no tails!


...frustrated, my little anthropologist sighed...clearly, i was being an idiot on purpose..."no mom. the first people. where did the first people come from?" she punched her fists in the air, punctuating each part of her sentence, as if trying to force her words into my brain the way she might force a quarter into a gumball machine that only takes nickels...

...finally i understood her quarter-sized question and was sure i didn't have anything but a nickel response...

"okay," i said, "i think you mean you want to know where the first people on earth came from?"

"yeah, like outer space or something?"

...oh dear...had my child somehow stumbled upon L. Ron Hubbard?...

..."okay, well," i began...i was stalling because i didn't know how to answer...how to explain evolution of species to a four year old?...should i instead recount the few native american creation myths i know?...did i need pictures and diagrams?...

...i broke into a sweat while my sweet girl sat patiently waiting for a response...i'm a pit of information in her eyes, the end-all and be-all...i'm google, a globe, encyclopedias, and jeopardy all rolled into one mommy package...if i fucked this up, she'd never trust me again...

"okay, well a long long time ago there were no people," i said

"what?"

...oh shit...

"yes, there were no people"...i waited for the obligatory skepticism, but she simply shrugged..."okay, so there were lots of animals"

"like dinosaurs"

"yeah, there were dinosaurs, but that was a long time before people"

...she gave me another shrug and waited...it occurred to me that "a long time" to my child was the equivalent of saying "last week" so for all i knew she could rationally believe dinosaurs walked the earth shortly before she was born...

"okay, there were a group of animals called apes, and they evolved into people who eventually became homo sapiens and then from there thousands of years passed and we got to where we are today, people like you and me" i let out a breath, knowing i'd completely fucked up...

...i made a mental note to get online and find an age-appropriate evolution book that would undo the damage i'd done...i pictured my daughter going to school the next morning and during recess huddling her little friends together around the see-saw, proclaiming, "we evolved from apes!"...i'd taken millions of years and compacted them into a little sphere of information...

...why couldn't she have just asked me where babies come from?...

...ellie chewed her lip, then her eyes brightened and she yelled, "you mean, we don't have tails so we're not monkeys!"

...say what?...

"if it doesn't have a tail it's not a monkey, even if it has a monkey kind of shape. if it doesn't have a tail it's not a monkey, if it doesn't have a tail it's not a monkey it's an ape!" she sang

"yes!" i said, finally realizing what she was talking about:


...thank you bob and larry, for saving my ass...now when she huddles around the see-saw proclaiming we're apes, i can shake my head and say, "where do they get this stuff?"

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