I remember this phase—the age of endless questioning. Our middle child went through it right before he started kindergarten. Now his 4-year-old sister, Kate, has assumed the role of The Great Inquisitor. All day, every day, I answer questions. When I’m not around, she corners her dad and pummels him with rapid-fire queries that never seem to end.
I shouldn’t mind answering her questions. And truly I don’t mind answering the first 20 or so, but then—I admit—I get frustrated. Because my answer always leads to her next question. And there are just so many things to ask. Here’s an example of one of our recent conversations:
“Mom, can I have a snack?”
“Sure, but first you need to wash your hands.”
“Why do I have to wash my hands?”
“Because you need to wash off the germs before you eat.”
“Why do you need to wash off germs?”
“Because germs can make you sick.”
“How can germs make you sick?”
“If you put a germy hand into your mouth, the germs can get into your stomach and make you feel sick.”
“Why do germs want to make me feel sick?”
“Well…that’s just what germs do.”
“I don’t see any germs on my hands. Why can’t I see the germs, Mom?”
“Because germs are really tiny and you can only see them with a microscope.”
“What’s a microscope?”
“It’s a machine that people use to look at things that are really tiny.”
“Things like germs?”
“Yes, things like germs.”
“What do the germs look like?”
“I don’t know. I’ve never seen a germ under a microscope.”
“How do you know the germs are on my hands?”
“Because you were outside playing in the sandbox, so I know your hands are dirty.”
“And the germs live in our sandbox? Why do they live in our sandbox? Do they like sand? Do they live in sandcastles?”
“Germs can live almost anywhere. That’s why it’s important to wash your hands, especially before you eat.”
“What will happen to the germs when I wash my hands?”
“They will go down the drain.”
“Will they be scared of going down the drain? Do germs know how to swim?”
“I DON’T KNOW!!! JUST WASH YOUR HANDS AND EAT THE SNACK!!!”
Ever since Kate entered the questioning phase, I’ve begun to understand why some people go nuts during police interrogations and admit to anything. There’s a limit to how many questions the human brain can handle at any one time. At some point, you just start making things up.
One morning, Kate started asking questions about why I needed to brush her hair. When I told her I wanted to brush out the tangles, the answer led to roughly two billion more questions about tangles and what they’re doing in her hair at night that makes it such a mess. To appease her with answers and keep her still while I brushed, I told her that tangles crawl out from under the bed each night, looking for a good place to have a party. When they find her soft hair, they bring balloons, birthday cake, and party hats and start dancing. All that dancing messes up her hair, you see, and that’s what causes those twists and knots that need to be brushed out each morning.
If the tangle is particularly hard to brush out, it’s because it doesn’t want to leave the party. “The party is over, tangles!” Kate says as she winces while I brush.
Except for the occasional “creative answer,” I try my best to be honest. When the questions begin to bother me, it’s mainly because they remind me of just how much I don’t know. Why ARE things the way they are? Why did God make things that way? Why do people do certain things? Why aren’t some things fair? Sometimes I’m just as mystified as she is.
I may not know much—like whether or not germs can swim and what kind of music tangles like to dance to—but I do know this: In our world, there are far fewer answers than there are questions. And you can count on a 4-year-old to ask every single one of them.
Gwen Rockwood is a syndicated freelance columnist. Her book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile,” is available on Amazon and at Nightbird Books. Email her at email@example.com or write to her in care of this magazine.
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