When Wendell Jamieson's son started asking him all kinds of bizarre questions, he found experts from astronomers to etiquette guides to provide the answers in extreme detail. Here are a few of our favorite facts.
“Why is the sky blue?”
“Why does red mean stop and green mean go?”
“Where do babies come from?”
As we all know, kids ask a lot of questions. And whether you’ve got a precocious toddler of your own, an egghead nephew, or a brainiac grandkid, you’ll probably be subjected to a few mind-stumpers at some point in your life. Sure, you could always make up an answer if you don’t know the truth – but do you really want your kid to get a reputation at school as the boy who believes there’s a race of invisible giant painters who color the sky blue every day and black every night?
Instead of turning your child into the laughingstock of his first grade classroom, try Wendell Jamieson’s novel approach: Tell the truth instead.
When New York Times city editor Wendell Jamieson’s son, Dean, turned three, the little boy’s brain switched into overdrive. Suddenly, Jamieson couldn’t simply sit Dean in front of a Wiggles video and expect him to keep quiet – life at the Jamieson house quickly became a barrage of hows and whys and question marks, with no end in sight. Jamieson wanted to support his son’s unquenchable thirst for knowledge. So he vowed to answer all of Dean’s questions, no matter how bizarre or obscure they were – but he soon realized he couldn’t do it alone.
Instead, he decided to seek answers from specialists in each subject area related to questions that his son and other children were wondering about. The resulting book, Father Knows Less, or: “Can I Cook My Sister?” brims with arcane knowledge and trivia about topics that only a child would dare to dream about, mixed in with a lovely memoir about the trials, tribulations, and overwhelming joy of parenthood. It’s probably not the sort of book you’d read to your child as a bedtime story, but it’s got plenty to please the kid in you. And with all the fascinating facts you’ll find here, you’ll finally have the chance to outsmart your favorite five-year-old.
Here are a few of our favorite facts from the book – better hold onto them as a cheat sheet, just in case a child you know starts getting curious.
So why is the sky blue?
No mutant race of painters there – according to astronomer Geza Gyuk, you can chalk it up to air molecules interacting with different wavelengths of light. Certain colors have longer wavelengths than others; colors with long wavelengths, like red, can pass directly through the air molecules without being seen. Shorter wavelengths, like blue, scatter once they hit the air molecules, in an effect called Rayleigh Scattering. That means, when you look at the sky during daylight hours, it will appear blue to you – even though it’s actually filled with every color of the rainbow.
What causes that awful brain freeze you get when you drink a milkshake too fast?
According to Dr. Arthur L. Day, it’s not actually your brain feeling the pain. Instead, when you taste something cold, it “overwhelms the area of the mouth where the taste is coming from; it refers pain to adjacent things” – which, in this case, include the nerves around the brain. As a result, you end up with the famous “ice cream headache.”
Why do cops go crazy for doughnuts?
Well, mostly because they’re always around, says John F. Timoney, the Miami Chief of Police: “Doughnut stores, especially in New York City, are everywhere, they’re ubiquitous, and they are often open twenty-four hours a day.” Plus, they’re easy to discard if an emergency comes up – just toss it out the window, and roll past the Krispy Kreme drive-through window when you’re done working, if you’re still hungry.
Why do people fall in love?
According to talk-show host and psychologist Dr. Joyce Brothers, we don’t: Rather, “we jump in love – we are at the mercy of our chemical being.” She claims that when we meet someone who is our opposite in many respects, we are instantly drawn to them. This releases a chemical in our brains called phenylethylamine, which makes us feel excited. Next comes a hormone called oxytocin, which is, essentially, the feeling of love. Dr. Brothers claims that men are fully infatuated after a mere four dates – for women, it could take months for that love hormone to kick in.
And finally, here’s a great question from seven-year-old Elliot Applebaum, of La Jolla, California: “Why can’t I pick my nose in front of other people?”
For the answer, Jamieson consulted Peter Post, director of the Emily Post Institute and great-grandson of the etiquette goddess herself. Post’s initial reply was pretty simple: “Because it’s gross.” Post claims that, even if you don’t have a problem with it yourself, most people around you are going to think your nose-picking’s pretty vile. Instead, he recommends that you “excuse yourself and do it in the privacy of a bathroom or any place that you won’t force other people to watch.”
Etiquette, says Post, is about “treating people with consideration and respect and honesty. If we want to have a great relationship with people, we should temper some of that picking of the nose.” Good advice – so next time you spot a little one digging out a booger, maybe you can set him right with a few words of wisdom. At any rate, it’s bound to work better than, “Because I said so.”
For more details on the book, or to submit your own child’s question for possible inclusion in the paperback edition, visit Wendell Jamieson’s website, www.fatherknowslessbook.com.
Father Knows Less, or: “Can I Cook My Sister?” is available from Amazon.