"If you had to pick one celebrity to help you save the world," my son asked recently, "who would it be?" A couple of years ago I would have focused on the question: Why is Jack asking that? What does he know of celebrities? Save the world from what? Where did that come from?
Eventually I realized the reason for the question doesn't matter. Children wonder as they wander, drifting merrily through the atmosphere like stray balloons. They brush against one thing, then another — branch, nest, rooftop, telephone pole — pose questions and move on.
So I thought about my answer: Which celebrity would I enlist to help me save the world? Hmm. Let's see.
"I'd pick Alec Baldwin," Jack said. "Or that guy from the wrestling channel."
"What wrestling channel?" I asked.
"The WW thing. That guy with the long hair and the hat. He looks pretty strong."
"I guess. But... Alec Baldwin?"
"He looks strong, too," Jack explained. "And he's funny. Except he wears a tie."
My life is an exercise in bizarre conversations. This is one of those things no one tells you about parenthood.
The "What to Expect..." books don't let on that you will spend the rest of your life debating the merits of the Perfect Brownie pan or whether Alec Baldwin really has the makings of a superhero.
I routinely pause during these whacked-out discussions and an old Talking Heads tune plays in my mind:
You may tell yourself
This is not my beautiful house!
You may tell yourself
This is not my beautiful wife!
How did I get here? Did I really just spend the past 20 minutes pondering whether a possum would make a good pet, and if so, do I think he might eat leftover coleslaw?
What would I do if I was invisible for a day?
Have I named my toes?
Who would win in a fight: a pumpkin or a watermelon?
Is honesty always "the best policy"? (Air quotes by Jack.) What about if people look fat?
And on and on.
On road trips our family used to take along "The Kids' Book of Questions," by Gregory Stock. It posed such ethical brain-teasers as: If your dad dyed his hair green and put a ring through his nose and you knew everyone was going to stare at him and laugh, would you still go shopping with him?
We had fun with that book. Now we don't need it. I spend my days waiting for the next stumper, which one of the kids inevitably provides.
I'm still considering my save-the-world celebrity: Samuel L. Jackson comes to mind. Or Russell Crowe. Hugh Jackman? Halle Berry?
I'll have to get back to you, I told my son. Good question.