As you know, SchmoopyBoy is fascinated with poop. Recently, his interest has taken a scientific turn. He now knows that food goes into our stomachs when we swallow, and comes out as poop. Even more recently, he asked what happens to the poop after it goes into the toilet.
Keeping in mind he is four years old, I tried to keep the explanation at his level. I should also note that he is at the stage of “Why?” Virtually every statement that comes out of my mouth is followed by SchmoopyBoy asking Why? So, with that in mind, here is approximately how the explanation went.
Me: The poop and the water go down the drain when you flush. Then it goes to pipes underground, to the water treatment plant.
SchmoopyBoy: Why does it go down the drain?
Me: To get to the pipes.
SchmoopyBoy: Why are the pipes underground?
Me: Because if they were above ground it would be really stinky.
SchmoopyBoy: Where is the water treatment plant?
Me: On the other side of town.
Me: Because that is where the clean water gets put back into the wash, and back to the lake.
SchmoopyBoy: Why is it clean water?
Me: The water gets cleaned at the water treatment plant.
Me: The water is dirty. It has poop and pee in it. It needs to be cleaned. Then the clean water goes back to the lake.
You can see how these conversations go. So the other day we were at Target and SchmoopyBoy needs to use the bathroom. I took him into the bathroom and he wants more information on how poop and pee are processed at the Target bathroom. He asks if his pee and the water in the toilet are going into pipes. I confirm that indeed they are. He asks if the pipes are underground. I confirm that indeed they are. He again asks why, and I again explain that if poop and pee water went across town over ground it would stink and it would be dangerous because there is bacteria in poop and pee that could make people sick. He continues his line of questioning, but then really wants to know about the treatment plant and the clean water coming out of the treatment plant. He really wants to know why the clean water is returned to the lake.
At this point people in the restroom are beginning to snicker at us – this preschooler barraging his mother with questions about poop and water treatment plants and why is the treatment plant on the other side of town and why does the water go to the lake, and on and on and on… why? why? why?
All this time I’m thinking to myself, He’s four. Keep it age appropriate. Do not start talking about water policy. Do not utter the words “consumptive use” or “return flow credits”. But alas, at this point I’m getting flustered and I'm so accustomed to talking about water related issues with adults in a professional setting that I can't think of how to answer his questions in terms a preschooler can understand, so what comes out of my mouth? The words “consumptive use” of course. I’m mumbling something incoherent about how we divert water from the lake, use what we need, and then return the rest to the lake after it gets cleaned at the treatment plant. And of course he keeps asking why? because I’m so incoherent and I’m using words like “divert” and “consumptive use” and for crying out loud the child is only four so what the heck does all this mean, and finally a woman who was trying so hard not to laugh just said to him “Because otherwise we would run out of water” and at last the conversation was over (for the time being) and we could return to our shopping in peace. Thank you, kind woman, for summing everything up so succinctly.