Day 45: Knowledge of knowledge

“if a man knows only, and has only knowledge of knowledge, and has no further knowledge of health and justice, the probability is that he will only know that he knows something.”

Plato, Charmides

Over the weekend, the younger flopsy-duckit forgot how to skip.

She is her mother’s daughter, in this respect; it is part of family lore that the duck-rabbit is the only person in human history who had to learn how to ride a bike twice because it forgot how after learning the first time.

The younger said she wanted to skip to preschool again, but then when we set off she lurched into a jog-gallop.

“Do you remember how to skip?” I asked.

“No,” she said.

So I demonstrated and she copied and soon she was skipping along energetically. Every now and then she would stop dramatically and say, “Oh! I need to catch my breath!” And then we would walk for a bit and talk.

We passed a palm tree.

The younger looked up. “If we were mouse,” the younger mused, “we could climb up that tree.”

“I suppose we could,” I said.

But then I paused and wondered aloud, “are mice good climbers?” I was really asking myself more than her. I imagined a mouse running up a tree. It seemed plausible. In the nursery rhyme the mouse has no problem running up a grandfather clock, which, after all, used to be a tree. But then, I couldn’t say for sure that I had ever actually witnessed a mouse running up a tree.

“Maybe it would be better if we were squirrels,” I suggested. Squirrels are really good at climbing trees.”

“Mouse are really good climbers,” affirmed the flopsy-duckit. “So are hamsters.”

“Oh, I didn’t know that,” I responded, good-naturedly.

It was time to skip again.

A minute or two later it was time for another breather.

“Did you know,” said the younger, “that in the winter animals vibrate under where all the tree roots are?”

“They vibrate?” I repeated slowly. “What do you mean by that?”

She looked at me impatiently. “They go to sleep, under all the tree roots.”

“Oh,” I said. “I think you mean ‘hibernate.’ It’s called hibernating not vibrating.”

“No,” she replied instantly, without the least hesitation in her voice. “It’s definitely not hibernating. That’s not the right word. It’s called vibrating.”

“But what you mean is that they go to sleep for the winter, right?”


“That is called hibernating.”

“No, it’s actually not.” [1]

“All right, then.”

It was time to skip again.

A minute later it was time for another breather.

We paused in front of someone’s front yard. There were roses and grasses and a large, volcanic-looking grey rock amidst them.

“Wow,” observed the younger in amazement, “look at that enormous pile of worm poo!”

I frowned. “Where?”

She pointed to the rock.

“That’s a rock,” I said, “there’s no way a worm could make that much poo.” [2]

She looked at me witheringly. “Not one worm, silly. Thousands of worms made it.”

“I am absolutely sure that that is not worm poo.”

“You’re wrong, you don’t know anything.”

“That is not true. I know things!”

“Yeah,” in a voice dripping with contempt, “eighteenth-century things. That’s the one thing you know.”

“That is not true,” I protested. “I mean, I know eighteenth-century things, but I also know other things.”

She looked at me skeptically. “Like what?”

I paused and considered. “I know how to skip.”

She couldn’t deny that. “All right,” she conceded. “Those are the two things you know.”

“No, I know other stuff too!”

“Like what?” she asked again.

I thought, racking my brain. I had given her leftover Trader Joe’s Macaroni & Cheese for her packed lunch today.

“I know how to make mac and cheese!” I declared triumphantly. [3]

She nodded. “OK.” She said. “Those are the three things you know.”

“Fine,” I said. “Those are the three things I know.”

I decided that perhaps, after all, that was enough.


[1] This may be the phrase that the younger uses more than any other phrase.

[2] On the walk back from preschool I actually went over to the rock and touched it, just to confirm that it was a rock. It was. It was a rock with presence. I started thinking of the rock in The Testament of Gideon Mack, “a stone, looming in the mist like a great tooth in a mouth full of smoke,” although that was a metamorphic rock, not an igneous rock (see, I was paying attention in Mr. Allen’s chemistry class when I wasn’t comforting forlorn students). I went back just now and took a picture, for your edification:

The enormous pile of worm poo, or rock, depending on whom you believe.

The enormous pile of worm poo, or rock, depending on whom you believe.

[3] I would like it to be known that I can also make macaroni cheese, as we call it in England, from scratch, without consulting a recipe, in imitation of the way my mother made it, but my children prefer the boxed kind, to my chagrin.


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