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I Tried To Explain Time Travel To My 4-Year-Old And Things Took A Very Unexpected Turn

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In the ongoing culture war over sexual identity, there’s an argument we hear all too often: “How will I explain this to my children?!” It’s an abstract appeal to emotion at best, but the biggest flaw in this argument is simple — the real problem is never the children. It’s the so-called grown-ups.

The other day, my 4-year-old daughter and I were watching Free Birds. If you haven’t seen it, it’s not a Skynyrd retrospective, it’s an animated film about time-traveling turkeys. That’s all you really need to know.

At some point in the story, the hero travels back in time to steer himself back on the heroic path. This turns into a gag, and eventually there are four versions of our hero all warning each other about various things.

My 4-year-old was understandably confused. Why were there suddenly four of what looked like the same turkey? I panicked. My wife, who actually has a Ph.D. in particle physics, was still at work, and had left me, the hapless psychologist, to have “the talk.”

I did my best. “What if you from tomorrow came back to today to tell yourself something? Then there would be two of you. See?” She did not see. This is a kid whose entire sense of time is divided into BN (“before nap”) and AN (“after nap”).

She looked at me, perplexed, thought for a second, and then said:

“Maybe those are his boyfriends.”

That was it. She had moved on. She had much less trouble understanding how a boy turkey could have three boyfriends, without any explanation, than she had comprehending time travel, even after I explained it.

Some boy turkeys like girls. Some like boys. Some boy turkeys like girls and boys. Some turkeys look like boys but consider themselves to be girls, and think that how they look is none of your damned business. Life is complicated, but your kids can handle it. Can you?

Dr. Peter J. Meyers is a Resident Marketing Scientist for Moz. His latest obsession is “hunting the algorithm to find out what makes Google tick.”

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