Every parent will feel at some point like he is the only one who deals with a particular behavior. Sometimes the way your children act makes you think there couldn’t possibly be another child like this. For me, I have often wondered if my children ask more questions than any other child has in the history of the human race.
The good news is that I now believe the inquisitive nature of my two is actually universal. Answering questions is par for the parenting course it seems, especially between the ages of 2 and 4. (Please, someone with older children, tell me it gets better, perhaps if only because they’re in school 7 hours a day and their teachers get to take on a portion of this responsibility.) The thing is, it’s not that I necessarily mind answering lots of questions. I simply don’t think I was prepared for the sheer volume I would have to tackle, nor for the challenge some questions would present. By the afternoon on most days, I find that my brain is exhausted from trying to find the best way to answer each question in a way that gently forces these kids to think while at the same time satiates their curiosity for information from a trusted source. My head rarely has time to process anything without background noises or interruptions such as screaming, fighting, giggling, singing, or direct questioning. Sometimes, the questions are simple. But more often than not now, they require a bit of thought. I find that questions these days fall into three categories:
1. Permission questions – These are the easiest because the answer is almost always “Yes” or “No,” and I can generally get by with a little explanation and the conversation is over. ”Mommy, will you help me wipe?”, ”Mama, can I pour the syrup?”, “Mommy, can I go to the bathroom outside like Abbey (our dog)?” Granted, if the answer is “No,” I generally assume I have to support my response with reasoning to preempt the inevitable, “Why not?” But thinking through these responses has become second-nature to me at this point. My brain is programmed to answer them.
2. Ethereal questions – “Why are there bad people?”, “Why does God love me?”, “What does Heaven look like?” These are actually my favorite questions, because they can lead to the most interesting conversations, and generally ones that we need to have. The problem is if they come after answering 27 factual questions (to be addressed below) and I’m just tired.
3. Factual or “How does the world work?” questions – Eliza is starting to ask more and more of these, and they’re getting more complicated. This is where I’m struggling. When she asks, “Why do you have hair in your butt?” I have to bite my cheek to prevent giving my AP bio teacher’s scientific explanation, and just say, “Everyone gets hair there when he grows up,” quietly hoping that it’s enough of an answer to prevent further questioning. (So far, it’s worked.) She is no longer satisfied when my answer to “Why does it rain?” is because God knows the plants, flowers and animals need it to survive. She now wants to understand the clouds and the amounts of rainfall and why it’s raining here and not over there. I’m starting to have no idea how to answer some of her questions. In one afternoon in the car last week, I wrote down just a few of her inquiries:
“Mom, will different kinds of rocks hurt you?” ”How do you survive?” ”What will happen if we drive onto the sidewalk and fall backwards onto the roof if your seatbelt is not on?” “Why does music play for us?”
The thing about these questions is that they often require copious amounts of discussion. If I respond, “What do you think will happen if our car flips over and we’re not wearing our seat belts?”, she will say that we will get hurt, but then want to know how extensive our injuries will be. As questioning continues, she often gets me to, “I am not sure if I’m going to be able to answer that question in a way that will satisfy you,” or “I just don’t know.” And sometimes, I just want to hear one song in the car that’s not Veggie Tales or Little People singing Christmas songs and allow my brain to wander wherever it wants for 3 straight minutes.
The funny thing about being in this season is that I used to feel so un-challenged intellectually by parenting infants and toddlers. But now I find myself being challenged daily by the questions. And it’s starting to matter whether I get it right. It’s a somewhat scary and simultaneously exciting time. Despite the daily inquisition, I really am enjoying Zach and Eliza these days. There’s a bit of nostalgia already sprouting for their “younger days”; a realization settling in about how quickly time flies and how fast they grow.
I guess I would be okay with it even if my kids did ask more questions than any others in human history (and I know they don’t). The truth is that even though they are just like every other curious pre-schooler, they are completely unique. And I am thankful that they DO come to me for answers. I am pretty sure that someday, they won’t want to. And then I’ll reminisce about the days when they couldn’t get enough of me, asking hundreds of funny, silly questions a day.