Bovine excrement detectors

William has a lot of interests. His latest fascination is Big Foot. He reads about them, he watches videos about them. When he is at the camp, any strange noise is attributed to a possible Big Foot. He walks the woods with his BB gun, hoping to catch sight of his elusive prey.

One of my duties as a grandma is to debunk his wildest imaginings, I tell him in a practical voice, “William, you have a scientific mind. What is your proof that there is a Big Foot in Grand Valley?” Long pause. I continue on with my own evidence that there is no such thing as Big Foot.

He wants to believe in Big Foot very badly and rational rebuttal always makes William a little ornery. I often see adults responding in the same way these days.

Long after the matter was (I thought) settled, William was talking on the phone to his Aunt Cara. He made the claim that he’d seen a Big Foot in his front yard. He said that he’d called for his mama to come in right away but by the time she got there, Big Foot had left. Interestingly enough, that tricky creature came right back to the yard just as soon as mama left his bedroom.

After the phone call, I had a firm discussion with William. I told him that having an imagination was perfectly wonderful. I also explained that when he crossed over to trying to convince others that his imaginings are real, well, that has become a lie. He pondered this seriously. He knows the damage that liars can do from personal experience.

He said, “When I grow up, I am going to find evidence that Big Foot exists.”

“That’s fine,” I told him. “When you find that evidence, you will be famous.”

He liked the idea of that. Resting his chin in his hand, with a far away smile on his face, he said, “Want to know how I’m going to do it? I’m going to dress up in a Big Foot costume and I’m going to run around the woods and everyone will see me and think that I’m a Big Foot.” He was quite proud of his idea.

I was astounded but mounted yet another serious discussion. “Listen, William, evidence always proves the truth. So when you’re running around the woods in a Big Foot costume, are you actually proving the existence of Big Foot, or are you tricking people and making them believe something that is not true?”

Long pause. He said, “What if I dressed up like Big Foot and ran around the woods and maybe the Big Foots would be tricked and they would come out to talk to me because they thought I was another Big Foot.”

I said, “Well, now, that might be a good idea. If Big Foot came out to talk to you, why then you would prove to the world that there really is such a thing as Big Foot. The evidence would prove that Big Foot is true.”

He was satisfied with that, and the talk moved on to UFOs and aliens.

William comes up with a lot of ideas that are wild and out there. We enjoy his tangents, but we also try very hard to ground him in reality. We praise his scientific mind and encourage him to ask questions. We want him to be a thinker. We don’t want him to believe everything that he hears. We call it calibrating his bovine excrement detector.

A while back, I went to a birthday party. I noticed a child not much older than William glowering at me. I do mean glowering, like maybe I’d taken his sucker or something. So I greeted him, and he responded with “Did you know Trump is building his wall?”

I burst out laughing. His lip came out very stubbornly. “He is TOO building that wall!”

I’m not going to argue politics with a child. I was there to celebrate a birthday. So I changed the subject but he refused to speak further to me.

Interesting. I looked at him. He’s a child, so how he was acting didn’t really say as much about him as it said about his parents. Let’s get real here. The boy doesn’t read my column. He’d simply heard adults complaining about them.

The fact is, nobody’s working on that wall. If he’d have been my boy, I’d have asked him for proof. I would have asked him to use his scientific mind to find evidence. He wouldn’t have been able to do that and the whole thing would have been put to rest. But he’s not my boy.

I think that he’s learning some pretty dangerous ideas. Like, ‘telling lies is completely acceptable as long the lie supports your opinions’. Or, ‘you can be rude to anyone who thinks differently than you do’. We’ll leave it at that.

Critical thinking is a learned skill. If a child does not learn to question and to investigate and to think for himself, they grow up to believe anything, whether it be breathless stories of Big Foot, or the wild ravings of people with small hands. Any foolheaded idea that comes down the pike next.

Adjusting a kid’s bovine excrement detector is the job of his parents and the other role models in his life. However, to do that successfully, their own bovine excrement detectors need to be functional.

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