Set the Wayback Machine

to 1994. Just the ordinary sort of 1994, when my children were two and six years old.

We are watching X-Men during Saturday morning cartoons. My son is really into super-heroes, and in case you don’t know, the X-Men are mutant super-heroes.

My daughter asks me, “What’s a mutant?” I take a deep breath, trying to figure out how to explain genetic mutation to a six-year old. Thankfully, with my children this wasn’t too difficult.

“Remember the other week when I told you what DNA is? The instructions that tell the different parts of your body how to grow?” She remembers. “Sometimes the DNA changes, and that’s called a mutation. A Monoceratops changing into a Triceratops s a mutation.”* We watch some more of the cartoon.

She asks me, “Are all mutants weird like the X-Men, and have super powers?”

“No. That’s just the cartoon part. If you always have yellow flowers and suddenly get a red flower, that’s a mutation. In fact, everything in the world started out as a mutation, or else there would be nothing but itty-bitty plants floating in the ocean.”

She decides that would be boring.

“Why do those people hate the X-Men? The X-Men are good guys.”

“They hate them because they’re bigots. ‘Bigots’ means when people hate other people because of something like what church they go to, or where they’re from, or how they look. The people hate the X-Men because they look different, and can do different things, and they’re scared of them.”

“But that’s not fair,” she complains, “The X-Men are nice.”

“That’s right. Bigotry isn’t fair, and it isn’t nice.”

“I like Storm the best.”

Storm is a black woman with long white hair who can control the weather, and fly. “Me, too.” I answer.

“I want to be Storm for Halloween.”


A few nights later, we are reading The Enormous Egg by Oliver Butterworth. This is one of my favorite stories from when I was growing up, a tall tale about a Triceratops dinosaur that somehow hatches from an egg laid by a chicken, and the consequences for the boy in the story. She has loved dinosaurs since she was a mere tot of two. We read two chapters into the book. She read a few paragraphs, sounding out new words, and then realised, “The chicken laid a mutant egg!”

This is why you should watch television with your children. In one Saturday morning cartoon, we have covered biology and bigotry, and made a tentative Halloween costume decision.


* I know, I know, it’s more complex than that. All you evolutionary biologists out there will have to work with me on that. (-;


  1. 18 January 2012 at 0:08

    Such exchanges are extremely rewarding [my brothers (twins, oh joy) are nine now, and I intermittently try to pique their curiosity with science-y titbits], but seldom occur while we’re watching TV.

    Of course, weekend cartoons are never as good as they were when *I* was nine. Superhero flicks are excellent though – a genre second (imo) only to animated movies. [It follows that Megamind and the Incredibles are two of my all-time favourite films.] Wolverine will always be best.

  2. Barbara K said,

    5 January 2012 at 2:28

    I love this conversation. AND oh my gosh, I know that story. A teacher read it to my class when I was maybe 7 or 8 and I have never forgotten it, but couldn’t recall the title. Thank you, now I know the title and author. :)

  3. Maddy said,

    29 December 2011 at 18:31

    It’s precisely those kind of conversations that make my head hurt – you did a fine job.

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