More About Questions

I don't know a parent of a preschooler who hasn't lamented the "Why?! But, why?!" stage of every child's development. Most of the time, "why" isn't really the question they want answered, but they discover the power of asking: it stimulates a conversation. It makes Mom talk to them. (Unless she has become tired and cranky and mindlessly keeps saying, "I don't know...Want some chocolate?")

I have an almost-three-year-old there right now. He also likes to ask, "how" in an improper context, such as, "How are we going to have snack?" This drives his big brother Calvin crazy, who feels morally obligated to get Henry to understand that he actually means to say, "WHEN are we going to have snack?" And Henry doesn't get it. Frustration on all sides.

But I really think that the stage Calvin has arrived at may give the "Why" stage a run for its money. It is the stage marked by this question:

How do you know?

This stage is actually complicated because it arouses very divergent feelings as a parent, depending on the word that is emphasized, which seems to evolve in three phases.

When Calvin started it, it was along the lines of, "HOW do you know I was there?" To be sure, this was a silly question, asking me how I knew he was there, when he had been talking to me the whole time he was hiding under the blanket in the same room with me. But I was OK with it, since the emphasized "how" made it seem like he was impressed with my infinite knowledge. Of course, that also wore a little thin, because he's a bright boy, and I don't really believe that he really wondered how I knew something so obvious.

And then began the derivative, "How do you KNOW?" I kinda liked this for a while, because he would ask it in relation to things I know or believe strongly, and we had some sweet little conversations about things we could know about, even when we don't see them, like the wind.

But then he started asking the same thing, same emphasis on "know," and if he didn't like or believe my answer, he would say with a condescending little head shake and roll of his eyes, "Mom, scientists don't even know." No mom likes to be ranked below a scientist, for crying out loud. So much for the parental omniscience I was feeling just a few days before over the same exact question.

But the most deflating variable of the question has now begun: "How do YOU know?!" I don't like the sass, I don't like the disrespect, and I don't like it that half the time I don't know, and that he knows it. I'm almost wishing that I could hear him ask "Why?" a million times a day again. You know, how precious it would be for him to drive me crazy with the same question over and over again, just because he likes the sound of my voice and doesn't care about the substance or accuracy of the answers.

But to give him a little credit, there are some pretty impressive inquiries in the mix lately, too.

Like when we were waiting for the phlebotomist the other day, there were several signs posted around the room with a cell phone crossed out and the words, "No Cell Phones" written below it. Calvin pointed out every one of the signs and told me what they said. (He doesn't read quite yet - his understanding was based primarily on the picture.) Then he looked around at all of them again and asked, "Mom! Why do these signs all say 'No cell phones,' but none of the words have a letter 'F'?"

Now, that's the kind of question I like. And when I answered him, he didn't even ask how I knew. I just might be able to get through this stage, too.


An Ordinary Mom said...

Sometimes I know things because I can see them. Sometimes I know things because I can feel them in my heart. And sometimes I know things because I went to school and God gave me a mind to use :) !!

I just think it is great that Calvin is so inquisitive. Too often this thirst for knowledge gets squelched. Being a former Biology teacher I loved it when my students wondered about things and I had no problem telling them I didn't know how things worked, but we would either research the answer together or brainstorm possible theories.

Hang in there :) !!

Angela said...

I love this evolution of inflection. What a smart little boy you've got there! I've been thinking about this post since I read it yesterday and it's done a couple of things for me. It's making me seize the day a little more with my slightly younger boy and appreciate the questions he thinks I know every answer to. It's nice to be a know-it-all in someone else's eyes too. :)
It also makes me even more grateful to be able to be home and watch these things evolve each day with my children.

You shoulda known when you married David you'd be in over your head in no time once his offspring could verbalize...:)

Mom Tu-Tu said...

My 3 year old has recently discovered the perfect answer to any question - because! Yikes!

Unknown said...

I love the f/phone observation. Almost as frustrating was my daughter's 3 to 4 year old response to my frequent response of "I don't know" to her Why questions,(like why the sky was blue, or why the grass didn't grow there)--"You do, too, know. Just tell me!" Yes, I knew everything, but was trying to shield the truth from her young mind. . . .

Sketchy said...

This is how you know he's brilliant! Not only does he want the big facts he wants to know how he can discover them too.