Reminder to self: Never ask a boy an open-ended question. He'll swat it away like a gnat.
Thus, a heartfelt, "Hey, how was your day, Son?" is generally greeted with a grunt or -- I really hate this one -- " 'K."
To get information from a boy you must dig with a sharp shovel.
A case in point: Last weekend, my younger son, age 6, approached me with an iPad and a request. "Daddy, will you please type: How to make a cake?"
I bang out sentences on keyboard for a living, so I can type a short phrase and the words don't even register in my brain.
I absentmindedly typed "how to make a cake," at least five times on my boy's iPad before it hit me: Each time, he was handing me the tablet computer with the cursor hovering over the "search" box on YouTube.
Later, I found him prone on our king-size bed, chin in his hands, earphones pressing against his Dutch-boy style haircut. He was systematically working his way through scores of cake-baking videos on YouTube. He had moved to the Internet, I should explain, after watching every OnDemand video he could find on baking.
Later that night I asked him, "So, son, how DO you make a cake?"
"Oh, I-don't-know," he mumbled, evading my question like a typical kindergarten kid.
I decided to back up. He must remember at least one little fact from all those baking videos, I thought.
"So, do most people use a big old mixer when they make a cake?"
"Some use an electric mixer you hold in your hands," he said, quietly.
"Other people use a whisk."
Impressed that he knew a real kitchen word like "whisk," I pressed on.
"So, how hot do you make the oven when you bake a cake?"
"Usually you preheat it to 350 degrees, sometimes 375 degrees," he said confidently.
"And how long does it cook?"
"Most cakes bake for 25 minutes and some for 30," he explained.
Hmm, I thought, as I transitioned from amused to astonished.
"Tell me about the icing," I said.
"Well," he said, "after the cake cooks and cools off, you spread on a little regular icing to help hold on the fon-DANT."
(I later learned that fondant is a doughy, sheet icing often used to finish wedding cakes. My son used the French pronunciation.)
I sped up the questions -- like a lightning round, so to speak -- and he answered each one crisply.
"How do you know a cake is done?" I said.
"The timer goes off -- ding!" he said, rolling his eyes.
"What if you don't have a timer?"
"You take a little cake poker and press it in the cake. If it comes out clean, it's done," he said.
"What is cream cheese?" I said.
"It's kind of like butter, but it's white," he said. "You put it in the icing for Red Velvet cake."
He folded his arms, as if to say, "Bring it on."
"Tell Daddy how to make rainbow cookies," his mother chimed in.
"Well, you take any recipe for cookie dough ...," he said, settling into his narrative.
He went on to explain that you divide the dough into six balls of descending size, each containing a different shade of food color.
"Then," he said, "you roll each ball out like a snake, then flatten it with a roller and wrap it around (the previous color) and pinch it together."
His description was complete with hand motions.
"When it comes out of the oven, it looks like half an oval," he said. "It makes a rainbow shape."
At this point, I picked my jaw up off the floor.
If you think The Information Age is a throwaway phrase, a piece of textbook jargon, I'd like you introduce you to my six-year-old "cake boss."
These days, pursuit of knowledge becomes pastime, becomes passion. And it happens with astonishing speed.
Mark Kennedy is the editor of the Times Free Press opinion pages and writes the Sunday “Life Stories” column. He also writes a Saturday automotive column, “Test Drive,” for the Business section. For 13 years, Kennedy was features editor of the newspaper, and before that he was the newspaper’s first Sunday editor. The Times Free Press Life section won the state press award for Best Community Lifestyles four times during his tenure. Before Chattanooga’s newspapers ...