Since today's children are tomorrow's adults, I'm getting a little nervous about my old age. Video arcades dot the landscape like trees, and they're always overflowing with kids, causing me to wonder if playing Virtua Fighter and Crusin' USA will adequately prepare them for my future.

Wondering exactly what do kids know and when do they know it, I decided to do some investigating. I recently got my chance when Zack came home from school with one of his smart friends. I know Mike is smart because he's one of the elite handful of students enrolled in the ELP - Extended Learning Program. A self-proclaimed "know it all" and proud of it, Mike's favorite movie is "Casablanca," he loves opera and he's impressively up to speed on Iraq.Fixing the boys a snack, I was privy to a conversation in which they alleged to know everything there is to know about everything there is anything to know about. (Most fifth-graders feel this way, but they're still cute so it's not offensive. I'm told that changes in sixth grade.) A Delicious apple which, of course, wasn't, sparked a lively round of I Know More Than You Do. The first category was El Nino, and since I'm fairly ignorant about this particular weather phenomenon, I listened closely, hoping to learn something.

Mike: "This apple tastes like a rat. Last week I had a melon that also tasted like a rat. It's because of El Nino."

Zack: "Have you ever eaten a rat?"

Mike: "No, but I'm sure it would taste dirty and disgusting."

Zack: "Some girl I know at school is a rat." (Zack is not in ELP.)

Mike: "Which girl?"

Zack: "I'll tell you later."

Me: "Let's stay on track, guys. Tell me what you know about El Nino."

Mike: "OK. El Nino is when the waters of the Pacific Ocean heat up, or it might be the Atlantic. Anyway, this flooding and heavy rains, and with so much flooding and water, when something has too much water, like the apples, it doesn't taste good."

Zack: "These blueberries definitely must have been in El Nino. Do we have any dry food?"

Mike: "El Nino is an old Spanish word that means catastrophe, at least I think it does. Anyway, the Atlantic is still 4 degrees above normal temperatures. Personally, I think it's pretty cool."

Zack: "I don't. I think it's poopy, it's stupid, and there's no reason for it. I think the Grand Canyon is pretty cool."

Remaining split over what is cool, the boys did manage to agree that El Nino is destructive, that it happens every four years, and it has something to do with the oceans.

Moving on, I asked what else they were learning in school. Zack boldly admitted he hadn't learned anything in school that day but reported that he'd had fun in art class. Mike concurred, adding, "Last week we learned a lot of stuff, but I can't remember what."

Me: "Think, boys - what else do you know?"

Mike: "OK, here's something. Wheat is bad for you. Water is much better than bread, which has too many carbohydrates. The food pyramid is totally upside down - you actually should have 6-11 servings of water a day."

Zack: "Brushing your teeth twice a day seven days a week is bad. It puts too much pressure on the gums."

Me: (Alarmed.) "Where did you hear that?"

Zack: "In the locker room at the pool. The kid who told me said he read it in a book."

I insisted on facts straight from the horse's (excuse me, Miss Carruth, no insult intended) mouth.

Mike: "Yeah, no hearsay, just hard evidence." (Both his parents are lawyers.)

Zack: "OK, OK. The tropical rain forest has over 12 million bugs."

Mike: "More than half of all living things on this planet are less than an inch long."

In all fairness, I must admit that both boys can name all the counties in Utah, identify every species inhabiting the rain forest, and spell a lot of words most adults can't even define. Also, Zack is the first one I call when I'm having computer problems. Still, I worry about him getting a full scholarship to Harvard - or even a partial scholarship anywhere - when he tells me he didn't learn anything in school that day.

Me: "Zack, please finish your homework. How are you going to get into college?"

Zack: "I'll be a lot smarter by then. Can I have some pizza?"

Me: "Have some water. You never know."