By Paul Lane
The Tonawanda News
— There comes a time in every child’s life when a hard truth needs to be learned.
For Penny, that time came during lunch the other day.
She asked a question to which there no easy answer — certainly no easy answer that’s truthful, anyway. So, because she’s 5 1/2 now and old enough to know how some things really work, I swallowed hard and I searched for just the right words.
I stalled, though, allowing her question to ruminate momentarily as I thought of the best way to let her down easy. So she asked again: “Daddy, why does Chuck E. Cheese not actually sing? And why doesn’t any music come from the instruments his gang is playing?”
Yeah, the time had come to inform her those things writhing around on the stage at her favorite pizza/game emporium weren’t animate.
“Well, Penny, Chuck E. isn’t singing because ... “
She quickly interrupted: “Because he’s a robot? They all are, huh?”
Maybe she knew that the entire time and she just enjoys seeing me squirm at the thought of swiping a small piece of her childhood from her. Maybe something clicked in hearing innumerable clicks and clacks every time Chuck E. blinked or twitched.
I’m not sure, but I don’t really care.
“Yes, I replied. They’re robots.”
“That’s why they never go to the bathroom either, huh?”
I laughed. “That’s right, sweetie.”
I let out a great sigh of relief. She and Rigby are both growing up quickly. With each day that passes, fewer and fewer of life’s mysteries remain mysteries to them. I can no longer hide Rigby’s nose or convince Penny we’re spending a day painting the house.
Intellectual advancement has its advantages. Our movies aren’t limited to the animated variety anymore. Rigby has started to understand baseball (he likes going to games to see home runs). Penny and I can discuss math problems she does at school (although it blows my mind kindergartners work on multiplication).
There are some issues, though. Like communication between Mommy and I has come largely to a standstill. Penny has expertly cracked the code Mommy and I have spent years perfecting. Now we can’t even get halfway through spelling a word without Penny guessing what we’re trying to say. And trying to shoo them to another room for a minute proves fruitless, as Penny knows that means we’re talking about something good (and Rigby likes to hang around to antagonize — a word which, incidentally, they both can define and use in a sentence). So either Mommy has to learn German (although, heck, they probably teach that now in kindergarten, too) or we’ll need to learn telepathic speech.
And surprises have largely become an exercise in futility. Penny’s brain apparently powers Mapquest, as she always knows where we are and can give directions to places her grandparents haven’t even been to. And Rigby is learning his father’s tells and can read me fairly well. So, working together, they can generally figure out where we’re going before we even show which way we’re driving on I-190.
So, in other words, both Penny and Rigby are already smarter than their father. How this can be before they’ve outgrown bathroom accidents, I’m not entirely sure. But it is.
Seeing this intellectual capacity makes me want to further foster it. None of this Chutes and Ladders nonsense any more. Let’s do some light reading in the Encyclopedia Brittanica (I’m kidding, of course, as no child born in the 21st century knows or will know what an “Encyclopedia Brittanica” is).
Seriously, though, Penny reads better than some of the people you see doing it for a living on the TV news (at least on the networks). And Rigby’s figuring out ways to cheat and win nearly every game we play (I can’t encourage cheating, of course, but it is brilliant of him to figure out shortcuts).
There are some childhood rites that remain intact. But, by the time you’re reading this, they’ll likely have utilized sophisticated traps and infrared cameras to deduce the Easter Bunny’s mythical existence. And, since the Chuck E. Cheese episode is now resolved, I don’t doubt they sent drones to the North Pole and will falsify the Santa Claus rumor well before Christmas. As for the Tooth Fairy — well, I hope they still believe in her before they actually lost a tooth.
They’re still kids, of course. They still want to hug Mickey Mouse at Disney World, stay up all night “just because” and believe they can be astronaut doctor ballerinas. They’re just developing so quickly. I love seeing their intelligence bloom. But sometimes I can’t help and think they’re too smart for their own good.
Then I quickly correct myself. They’re actually too smart for their father’s good.
Contact Paul Lane at email@example.com.