We stood at the corner of West Seventh and Albion waiting for the WALK signal. Though it was February, the sun was shining and the weather was mild. My four-year-old son was never one to throw away an opportunity to venture to the local park, and so he called upon me to take him there on this particular afternoon.
We looked at the mound of snow piled under the gas station sign, and something odd caught our eyes. There was a large sheet of transparent plastic, over a foot wide and twice as tall, with a large ‘3’ printed on it. I reached out my gloved hand and lifted the placard out of the whiteness.
“Hey, Daddy,” my son said, “what’s your idea for what the ‘3’ is there for?”
Confidently, I told him the number had fallen from the sign towering above us. I pointed up, showing him a gap of matching size. “I don’t think gas is 19 cents a gallon,” I added, “so this ‘3’ must’ve been up there to tell people gas is three-nineteen a gallon.” For a moment, I was proud for having so deftly explained this quandary. What a great father I was, unveiling the world’s mysteries to my curious child!
My son looked down. “Oh,” he said dejectedly. His shoulders slumped.
But then I silently rebuked myself. My son did not expect the correct answer. He was just searching for ideas. My quick explanation backed up with sound evidence squashed, rather than encouraged, his curiosity.
So I added: “Well, at least that’s my theory. What’s your idea?”
Perking up, he said, “I thought the 3 was there to show that we live on Earth.” I guess he figured there are threes liberally sprinkled throughout the planet so that would-be intergalactic travelers can identify that they’re approaching the third planet from the sun.
“That’s a good theory,” I said with conviction.
My son smiled. I smiled too. I understood, at that moment, that
an exchange of ideas—an exploration of possibilities—is worth more than dished-out answers.
The light changed. “Come on,” I said with renewed energy, “let’s cross West Seventh.”
“Why is it called ‘West Seventh’?” he asked, trying to keep up as we crossed quickly.
“Because it’s the seventh street from the river,” I answered. I still had a lot of learning to do.