The Changing Face of Childhood Riddles

Let’s face it — children love riddles.  No matter how corny or silly — in fact, perhaps, the sillier, the better — they can’t seem to get enough.  And they don’t have to be new, either.  Consider these classics:

A plane crashes exactly on the border of the United States and Canada.  In which country would the survivors be buried?

A man sees an acquaintance standing on a corner with a dog.  He asks the friend if his dog bites; the friend says no but when the man tries to pet the dog, he gets bitten.  Still, the acquaintance told the truth — how is that possible?

A boy and his father were involved in a terrible automobile accident.  The father was killed instantly and the boy was rushed to the hospital and brought into the operating room where the head surgeon was waiting.  The doctor took one look at the child and declared “I cannot operate on this boy for he is my son!”  How can that be?

In case you’re not up on these, the answers are that you don’t bury survivors, the dog isn’t the friend’s dog, and, traditionally, the surgeon is the boy’s mother.  That last one stumps people because they’re not used to thinking of doctors as being women — when I was a kid, it was extremely unusual for a woman to be a doctor, let alone a head surgeon.

But times have changed and we’re a lot more enlightened these days, right?  The answer to that question is both yes and no, as ABC News found out when they posed the riddle to adults and children.  While women still aren’t an obvious answer, the children came up with an alternate and equally valid answer: the boy in riddle was the child of a gay couple.

When I posed that riddle to my kids one morning on the way to school, my son surprised me by coming up with the same answer — the boy had two dads.  On reflection, however, that makes sense.  To my kids, having two dads (or two moms) is perfectly normal; they have a number of friends with gay or lesbian parents.  Their doctors, however, despite being mostly female (their dentists, dermatologist, and one pediatrician are all women), probably don’t seem like they could be parents simply because they’re, well, doctors instead.

So, while the kids didn’t come up with the expected answer, they certainly came up with a right answer.

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