Attie’s mind is awash with questions. He doesn’t want to waste time telling you what he already knows, he wants to know more. Wants to drain your brain to extract that one remaining piece of the puzzle that will connect all the disparate thoughts whizzing through his head. This is something he could never do at school because the focus there is on answering questions, not asking them.
So our walk time is talk time. As we wind our way along the path through the forest by the river, our conversation meanders too. Dipping in and out of topics as our minds take the route that looks most interesting.
We find a fallen tree sitting across a log like a see-saw, and the kids try to lift me as we stand on either end. We compare our weights and talk about levers and fulcrums and the physics of simple machines. I ask them what they see in their minds when I say the word tree, and we compare the differences between us. Attie asks whether the plant he’s standing in front of is a large bush or a small tree, and what’s the difference between them anyway. I tell him I have no idea, but that the leaves growing out of it are pretty nifty. We check out their growth pattern and compare it to the Fibonacci video we watched a few months ago.
The grass under our feet reminds Attie of a dream he had last night, where the grass felt so real that it made him realize it was a dream. “I broke the fourth wall, Mum!”
Max says he doesn’t ever have dreams, not that he can remember anyway. We talk about why they can be hard to remember, the different sleep cycles and why the longest dreams happen just before we wake up.
The dog disturbs a group of birds who fly off suddenly, and I wonder aloud why birds are able to follow each other so closely and not crash. How they can all turn instantly in the same direction when they flock. Attie dissolves into laughter at the word flock, because “it sounds totally rude”. So we start yelling “Get the flock out of here!” (you can do that when you’re in the middle of a forest). We try saying the word flock in different accents to see which sounds the rudest. I think it’s Irish but the kids disagree, largely due to the fact that I’m only slightly less sucky at accents than Keanu Reeves in Dracula. We talk about how different accents come into being, and why Americans have such a wide range of accents but Australians don’t.
By this time we’re back home and Attie races to the big wooden swing that he loves so much. As he flies back and forth in front of me, I decide to impress him further with my vast knowledge. “Hey, do you wanna know why you go higher with every swing?”
To my great disappointment, he starts to tell me all about momentum... which he’s already learned from playing Portal. I smile anyway, happy that the conversation has come full circle and we’re back to talking about the physics of simple machines.
But he’s not done yet.
The mention of Portal prompts an important question. “Is it legal to make someone think that they’re going to die if they fail a challenge?” This sparks an hour-long chat about ethics - what it means, where it came from and how it’s applied to modern day research. We talk about experiments from the 50’s, what we learned from them and why we couldn’t do most of them today. I tell him about my experiences in getting research projects approved and participating in others, and how I felt about the way I was treated as a test subject. Then he runs off to redesign the science lab he’s making in Minecraft.
And that’s just one conversation.