“What’s that red button do?” you ask me, tugging on my arm and pointing carefully.
We’re standing in front of a vintage race car, a powerful, striped beast posing silently for viewing by the quiet masses wandering through the museum**. Looking at it, my mind flies to images of dusty, romantic roads of post-war Europe, where the beast roared to glory in yesteryear. At the same time, your mind lasers in on something right in front of you.
Inside a slanted air vent on the beautifully curved body panel closest to the door, there’s a small red button. It’s directly visible at about your eye level. I have to bend down to see where you are looking.
Is there another single soul among the thousands who have traipsed through this exhibit who looked closely enough to notice that little button?
Now you’ve got me curious, so I want an answer, too. There’s no one around that particular day at the exhibit who can tell us, so I pledge to try other avenues. A little online research a few days later, a couple of email exchanges among friends kind enough to help satisfy the curiosity of a child, and voila! The red button is a “kill switch.” It provides an alternative way to shut off the engine in a dangerous situation, like a crash. Unsure of the best way to convey this slightly frightening concept to a five-year-old with such a detail-oriented brain, I ultimately relay it through your mother, leaving that discretion in her capable hands.
But oh, these questions of yours. Maybe I want to get you answers just to keep you talking. In this world of colossal communication overkill, when information is everywhere but genuine conversation so scarce, you are a good talker. In this precious window before you are old enough to turn to the keyboard and screen for all you seek, maybe topics like this will keep you in serious conversation with me.
Even more, I long for you to believe that your questions count. Asking good questions is a life-changing thing, and every soul needs other ones to take them seriously. I’ll be one of those for you. That’s a gift I can freely give, far more important than anything that could be wrapped in bright paper for your birthday or Christmas.
Another day not long after our museum trek, you prop your elbow on the edge of the desk in my home office and lean your chin into your palm. The object of your close examination is a round glass paperweight that is performing its office pinning down a messy pile of mail. The heavy, grapefruit-sized orb is a souvenir your mother brought me from a beach trip back in her pre-teen years. It contains a little ocean scene, with dolphins leaping over waves and seagulls soaring above them, all frozen inside the clear glass.
I am touched that you don’t ask to pick it up, but ready to say it’s OK if you do. You are busy with deeper thoughts. Soon, they come.
“What holds those fish up in there, Evie? There’s no string or anything holding them up while they are jumping.”
I open my mouth. Then shut it again. It’s powerfully tempting to make up something that might make me sound really smart, but it’s not in me, not with this kid. Better a half-answer, or more research. Along with a deep breath, I take a lame stab:
The clear glass around them is holding them up, Buddy. I think they put the fish in there when they first pour the glass and it is still hot and forming in the round shape.
Naturally, this simply ignites more.
“They pour the glass? When it’s hot?” Before I can fathom where to go next, your sister interrupts to tell you to come have a snack. And we shift ho for the kitchen, because even curiosity is trumped by the prospect of a popsicle.
But the next time you visit, you drift in to my office again. To stare at those leaping dolphins. And think about it some more. I can see I need to find a glass artist somewhere to get more details. So we can keep talking about it.
**The race car that prompted Buddy’s question was on display at Bellissima!, a magnificent collection of vintage Italian cars at Nashville’s Frist Center for the Visual Arts. If you are in Nashville and haven’t seen Bellissima! yet, this week is your last chance, as it closes soon. The photos shown are also from the exhibit. Thanks to PR Director Ellen Pryor and Curator Ken Gross for answering Buddy’s question.