Around our place these days it's all about the facts. Our kids, eight and 10, are obsessed by them.
"Bring me facts or bring me death!" they yell, banging their fist on a desk and slurping coffee.
This sounds great for the offspring of a journalist (we often deal in facts) and a doctor (facts designed to scare the crap out of you). And it usually is. I'm learning more these days than I ever did at school, thanks to some "weird but true" books that arrived recently.
This is a beautiful part of parenting. On one hand we're supposed to know stuff, like how to complete a tax assessment, untangle a ball of string, or lose thousands of dollars on the stock exchange. But what's more fun? Learning all that, or learning that dolphins sleep with one eye open?
There are short, gobsmacking facts: Crocodiles can lay 80 eggs!
Facts that need more explaining: Bolivia has two capitals!
Facts that can frighten: If you dive to the bottom of the Mariana Trench, you'll be squashed like a bug!
There are yukky facts: Sweat smells because it mixes with bacteria that live on our skin. And the average person performs 14 farts a day!
There are gooey facts: Nose hairs trap dirt and dust, then mucus forms around it and that's what snot is!
And more complex facts: Hair, which is protein, goes curly when sulphur atoms form a disulfide bond which bends the protein. The more sulfur a person has, the curlier their hair will be.
I hate these ones. They lead to more questions. "Daddy, what's sulphur? And what's a disulfide bond? And what's protein?" These are the only occasions you'll hear me say: "Just wait til your mother gets home!" The best I could offer was that there must be sulphur in bread crusts.
Sometimes I'm the one asking the questions, like "What the hell is a tarsier?" or "Instead of trying to turn that broccoli into a diamond, could you just eat it please?"
The trouble is, like earthquakes, there's no predicting it. A fact can hit you at any time. I'm rushing to get our girls ready for school and bang -- "DADDY! ANTS DON'T SLEEP!"
I'm cleaning the chocolate from one daughter's mouth before her mum gets home and it's "Daddy did you know there's a hotel that looks like a dog?"
I tuck the other daughter in, whisper "Goodnight" and it's "Daddy -- a great white shark weighs the same as 15 gorillas!"
"A French woman lived til she was 122!"
"And a clam lived til it was 405!"
The other night I was at the end of my tether. "If you kids don't finish your dinner by the time I count to..."
"DADDY THERE ARE MORE STARS IN THE UNIVERSE THAN GRAINS OF SAND ON THE EARTH!"
"NOW LISTEN ... Really?"
That's interesting, but still I'm a little scared. What if the brain really is like an attic full of boxes, and when one goes in another gets pushed out? I have attic boxes my wife would like gone. Not the ones containing ex-girlfriends. More like the ones holding cricket statistics, and the names of every Melbourne Cup winner.
But you can't choose which boxes are tossed. What if tomorrow I learn a hurricane weighs as much as 160 million rhinos, but forget how to ride a bike? At least the kids have now given me an excuse for forgetting my wife's birthday.
When I was small, my dad had some interesting facts for me. I once asked where the dirt track behind our house led. For years afterwards I believed it went all the way to Sydney, 600km away. I also believed that if you gulped beer you would blow up. Now I too am a parent, I can put these down to the fact my dad just couldn't be bother... er, has a cheeky sense of fun.
In fact, a strict adherence to the truth can get boring. Like my dad, I have facts I stick to with our daughters. My wife rolls her eyes, but I will forever keep aloft the torch that declares warts come from touching toads. I also like to remind my girls daily that if they don't eat their vegetables they will, as night follows day, get scurvy. Kissing boys will of course lead to unspeakable horrors.
We actually have a double whammy going in that a series of joke books have arrived alongside the fact books. It's like watching the news read by Don Rickles.
Let's not list the jokes, for they suck. But to give you an idea of our house at present, try:
A SPIDER HEARS WITH ITS LEGS!
FOOTNOTE: Yes, all facts mentioned are all true. Recommended reading: National Geographic Kids Ultimate Weird But True. And The Big Book of Why, by Time for Kids.