Car Chats: Complications of Populations

Apr 15, 2013 by

On the way to or from school, A typical request from my 8-year-old son is, “Mommy, tell me something interesting.” We’ve discussed everything from Greek Mythology to Politics, Science to Religion. It’s forced me to get a little more thorough in my knowledge of historical facts (his dad’s strength, but he’s not usually in the car), and it is not uncommon for him to ask me this question in the morning, I tell him “I got nothin'” and he asks me to come prepared for the drive home.

Today, however, he was kind enough to come with his own topic to discuss, which is usually a relief, until the conversation quickly, and without warning, heads straight for choppy waters. It went something like this:

The Boy: Mommy, do you know how many people live in our country?

Me: I’m not 100% sure, but I think it’s a few hundred million.

The Boy: So… you don’t know.

Me: No, not exactly, but I can find out.

The Boy: How? How can you find out, it’s just a guess right?

Me: No, actually we have something called the Census where the government works very hard to count every person who lives in this country and even things about them like their race, income, how many of the people are kids, or women or men.

Next stoplight, Siri and I have a conversation and she’s kind enough to provide me with this graphic:


Now, I’m not gonna lie.  I was feeling pretty pleased with myself.  A “few hundred million” is pretty much exactly equal to 309 million.  Yeah!  I rock, and I tell him as much.

The Boy: But you can’t know EXACTLY how many people, cause people are born and then there’s more.

Me: That’s true, we can’t know EXACTLY, but this is pretty darn close and besides, people die too so it kinda breaks out even.

…. and here’s where we start getting into dangerous territory….

The Boy:  What happens if we get too many people?

Me: Well, we don’t have that problem here, really.  But in China they have over a billion people…

The Boy: Wow!

Me: Yeah, and there they can only have one child per family.

….and I shoulda seen this coming….

The Boy (after thinking about it for a minute): What happens if the mom, you know, gets another baby.

Me (taking a VERY long, deep breath): Oh boy.  Well, now we’re really getting into it, aren’t we.

I could have gone the “you know what buddy? this is really a grown up topic, we’ll talk about it when your older” route. The thing is, I HATE this response because usually if a kid is old enough to ask a question, they are also old enough to deserve an answer.  Not everything is appropriate for a kid, I get that, but he has questions and I think it’s my job to answer them in an age appropriate way… it’s just not always that easy, like this time… so I tread carefully, but truthfully.

Me: Okay, here’s the deal.  You cannot discuss this with any of your friends at school, this is a…

The Boy: yeah, I know, a private conversation.  I promise.

Me: Okay, so sometimes, if a woman gets pregnant, and she can’t or doesn’t want to have the baby.  Like maybe she’s really sick, or maybe there’s something really wrong that makes it dangerous, or she’s too young, there’s a way to stop the pregnancy before it becomes a baby.

I gave him a moment to process this, then asked:  do you have any questions about that?

The Boy: No.

Me: Okay, but if you do, you can always ask me later.

The Boy: I know.

A BRIEF INTERMISSION TO DISCUSS THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM:  Yeah, I know, there are some out there who are going to scream that it is always a baby.  The thing is, you might be right. I’m not entirely sure that I disagree with you. It may be a baby from conception, it might not.  No matter what the truth, my eight year old doesn’t need to know that piece of information to understand this concept.  Someday he’ll learn how babies are made, he’ll understand the different stages of life in utero, and at that point he will have to struggle with the moral dilemma of when life begins, and at what point taking away a woman’s right to choose is doing more harm than good.  But right now he’s still just 8, and we are on the precipice of having the for-realz birds and bees discussion.  He knows about the uterus and ovaries, and where babies grow, and that they come out of the vagina (not the belly button), but that’s it.  And right now, that’s enough for him.  So if you’re getting all fired up, hoping to jump into a heated pro-life/pro-choice debate, just slow your roll.  This post is not about how all of us should view abortion, it’s about my attempt to educate my child, without terrorizing him with images of dead or murdered babies (whom he happens to have a real affinity for).

The Boy: China, um, now don’t take this the wrong way, but it doesn’t sound very good.

Me: I think it can be a tough place to live for people who don’t have a lot.  But it is a country that your Daddy and I would really like to take our family to visit.  They have a lot of interesting stuff to see, and it’s a very different culture to learn about.  But mostly, I just want to make sure you remember that while we may look at China’s rules and think they’re not so great, the country is filled with people just like us.  People who want to be happy, who want their kids to be happy and safe.

The Boy (losing interest now): Yeah mom.  I know, I don’t think that.  Can I play Skylanders after school today?

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