Often, when parents talk about the questions from their children they are not prepared for, they are referring to the questions regarding sex, drugs or religion. Yet, I haven’t been too worried about these. I have no problem being straightforward about sex or explaining that at some point hormones will take over my children’s bodies, give them urges they feel they have no control over, but that they nonetheless are responsible for. I have no problem saying they should without question stay far away from doing any drug that involves a needle, but at some point they may be curious about marijuana, in which case, they again need to be responsible and safe, be with people they trust and not do anything stupid like mix drugs and alcohol and proceed to take themselves for a drive. Religion may be a bit sticky as I will have to explain why some people have one and why we don’t, or that religion is one of those things that in theory was meant to teach all of us how to get along with each other, but instead has led to thousands of years of war. I suspect the religion question will get a little complicated actually.
I am finding, however, that the questions I don’t know how to answer are the ones that are already coming at me from my three year old. Random mundane questions. Questions like, “Why does Mommy’s hair get dirty and mine doesn’t?” I don’t know. I don’t play in a sand pit. I don’t play with friends who dump dirt and leaves in my hair. I don’t play with play dough and then put it on my head. Yet I have to wash my hair – which for some reason is a chore I hate and if I ever am ridiculously rich, it is a chore I will happily pay someone else to do for me – while my son doesn’t. His hair doesn’t get dirty. Except for the time a kid smacked him in the head with a popsicle and last week when he scratched his head with his paint brush and consequently painted the back of his head green, his hair doesn't require washing.
I find I say I don’t know a lot.
“Why was that kid mean to me?”
“I don’t know. I suspect someone was mean to him, now he feels bad and sometimes people deal with feeling bad by being mean to someone else, often someone smaller.”
“Why do they do that?”
I don’t know.
"Why did they put that building there?"
I don't know.
"Why is that kid sad?"
I don't know.
"Why do I need shoes? Why can't I just wear socks outside?"
"I don't know actually. It's not raining or snowing. It's rather warm. Still, we wear shoes even when we'd rather go barefoot."
On the more complicated side of things, we recently pulled out of a playgroup, because one of the parents had a tendency to be overly affectionate and ignore the personal boundaries of the children. After a number of red flags, I realized I had a legitimate safety concern. After my husband and I told the other parents why we would no longer participate, I told Fyo that we wouldn’t play with his friends X and Y any more, because we had a disagreement with the parents.
“Are they mad at you Mom?”
“Yes, they are.”
“Why are they mad at you?”
“Well, I had a concern and I felt uncomfortable. Basically, we had a disagreement about the personal boundaries of children.”
“Well...I don't know. Do you think we could come back to this one later?”
Oh. And politics. I don't really know how to explain politics. When my dad was visiting, I was ranting about the current Republican Party’s war against women and sexist legislation they are trying to push through in various states. My son put his spoon down in his cereal bowl, and said, “Mom! Why are you yelling at your father?”
“Because I’m ranting about the sexist backlash running across the country at the moment. It makes me angry.”
“Because it’s degrading and it’s limits women’s access to healthcare and choices, and when you limit women’s healthcare and choices, it impacts the lives, health, and potential of children, and when you impact the health and potential of children you impact the health and potential of the country.”
“Because that’s how I think it works.”
“Why do you think so?”
Then I looked at my son, and calmly said words I never thought I would say, which were, “Now you sound like my high school History teacher.”
Then later in the day, “Why can’t I have a hot dog in the park?”
“Because the hot dogs they sell in the parks aren’t good quality meat.” My dad, however, proceeded with a description of pink slime.
“What’s pink slime?”
“Exactly the point,” we said.
Some parents do fear the embarrassment or social awkwardness when their kids ask loud questions in public places about disabilities or minorities. So far this has been smooth sailing for us. Thankfully, New York City is a diverse city, so kids have a lot of exposure to a lot of different people, and so far, my son hasn’t had any issues with my answers to the questions on these points:
“Why is that little boy brown?”
“Because that’s the color of his skin. What color is your skin? Different people have different colors of skin.”
“Why does that woman only have one eye?”
“Because something happened to one of her eyes.”
These are a little like a koan. But when my son saw a four year old strapped into a stroller sucking on a pacifier, and asked, “What is that in her mouth? Why?” I was stumped. I don’t know.
“Why do Nana and Grand Dad live in Texas?”
I get agoraphobic in Texas, so I really don’t know why people live there. But I said, “That’s where their families lived, so that’s where they chose to live too.”
“Why do the Abuelos live in Los Angeles?”
“Because that’s where their house is. Abuela lived there when Abuelo fell in love with her, so he moved.”
"I don’t know. He hates the traffic, the suburbs, and the sprawl, but he likes warm weather. It made sense to him."
And most recently, when he sees his baby sister nurse, “Why don’t I nurse any more?”
I don’t really know what to say to this one, but finally say, “it was just something we grew out of.” This isn’t true. He would have nursed until he left for college if he had his way, but I don’t have the heart to tell him that I just got tired.
“When baby goes back into your belly, can I nurse again?”
“Yes. Absolutely. If she finds her way back inside, the nursing is all yours.”
“I like baby on the outside, but I liked her more on the inside. When do you think she’ll go back inside?”
This one I’d actually love to say I don’t know to. But I don’t. I say, once babies are out, they stay out.
“Do you love baby? Do you love me?”
Finally! Questions I know the answer to!
"Yes, I love you both immensely."
Why do parents love their children?
“I don’t know. I just do. I love you because I love you.”
Completely lame. But it was all I could come up with. Still, from my lack of knowledge, I'm hoping he picks up on two things: 1) that it's okay not to know everything all the time and 2) that I'm open to the question and the conversation.