The hardest questions

“Mommy,” Thalia asked, approaching the couch, “I need to ask you a question.”

She seemed uncharacteristically serious. Nervous even. Thalia is a girl rarely without a smile on her face, a wiggly dance move in her legs. I sat up straight and looked her in the eyes so she’d know I respected her question.

“Of course, honey. “

“Well,” she said, shuffling side to side, “It’s kind of a weird question. It’s weird.”

Weird is code for uncomfortable.

“Can I…can I ask you anyway?”

Oh no, I thought, bracing myself for something overheard at school about bodies or pregnancy or kissing boys. Oh no no no no no. She’s not even six. I’m so not ready for this stage.

I love that my daughter asks questions. I love that she’s a critical thinker who processes her world in thoughtful ways, and wants to understand the how and why behind the what. But it’s scary to think about those questions that stem from dubious sources in her classroom, about alligators in the sewers or Bubble Yum filled with spider eggs or whatever rumors are being spread by the prepubescent set in this particular century. No doubt Hannah Montana is involved. As are the words internet and naked.

That said, I’m less worried about embarrassing questions or silly urban myths, and more concerned about values-based questions which, with the wrong answer,  pits us versus them.

I’m anxiously waiting for the day that Thalia skips home from school to inform me that Obama is bad, or that fat people are ugly. Or heck, she could one day ask whether it’s true that good people go to church, or that mommies are supposed to stay home with the kids. Fortunately we live in Liberal York City where our progressive values are the norm, but still. Sage has already asked me whether it’s true that people need to be good to live forever (oy).  It’s hard to continue to say “here’s what we think, though other people think something else,” without making our perspective seem more right than the other. Of course, yes, we want our girls to believe a lot of what we believe. But we also want them to believe it because they’ve thought it through and it makes sense to them. Not just because we’ve told them it’s so.

With the exception of a lifetime loyalty to the Washington Redskins, which, from Nate’s perspective, is entirely non-neogotiable.

(Jayzus people, do you know how hard it is to talk about racial sensitivity when your home is covered with stuff that says RED SKINS on it?)

It’s a Shirley Temple. Shut up.

I suppose all I can do is what I’m doing now–let my kids know what we believe, answer their questions as honestly as I can, and let them know that they can always talk to me about any subject at all. Even race (which I’m now much better at, thanks to all of you.) Even sexy toothpicks. My hope is that this open dialog thing can keep on keeping on, even and especially when my girls are slamming doors shut, and wailing through mascara’d lashes that they hate me.

I hear that’s about 10 these days. Maybe 11 if you live in the suburbs.

“You can always ask me anything Thalia,” I said, looking my beautiful, confident, growing-up-so-fast 5.5 year-old in the eye so she knew I took her seriously. “Anything. So tell me. What is it?”

“Well,” she said, holding her breath for a moment then shifting from her right leg to her left. “Hailey said…Hailey said…”


“Hailey said that if you stare at something long enough, your eyes will change color. Is that true?”

It was hard not to smile.


36 thoughts on “The hardest questions”

  1. Dodged a bullet. LOL Enjoy it while it lasts. 🙂

    I hear you on the other stuff. My 9 year old was told by her best friend that she's stupid and hates God because her family doesn't believe in any god.

    But it spawned a really GREAT conversation and I was glad to have had the chance to engage in it.

    Of course, when my daughter asked me what a blowjob is, my kneejerk reaction was “Look – a bunny. WHO WANTS SOME CHOCOLATE MILK???”

    I'm a coward.

  2. I think I dangled a participle. Let me re-phrase:

    My 9 year old accused of stupidity and hating God by her best friend because we, her family, do not believe in any god nor practice any religion.

  3. Oh Linda, I am so not ready for that kind of question! Although weirdly, I remember asking my own mom the same thing. I don't remember her reaction. I'd imagine it was somewhere better utter calm and total mortification.

  4. I once asked my mom what 69 was. When I was in high school.

    And yes, I died on the spot.

  5. Oh I love her innocence.

    The worst I've been asked so far is why do people kill themselves. I did the best I could, but it felt inadequate. The trouble for me is always with explaining things that I don't truly understand.

  6. Love this. I've had so many death and illness and divorce questions in the past 1-2 years from my not-yet 6-year-old son that questions about the Easter Bunny fill me with gratitude.

  7. I wasn't ready for the god conversation, but it came when Ittybit was four. I've found it to be like dealing with the death of a pet: The conversation doesn't really end it just revisits from time to time when you least expect it.

  8. Just this morning, from a not-quite-3yo: “mommy, what do you think dying is all about?”. Need. More. Coffee.

  9. That picture is adorable!

    Thalia's question and the way she asked it is adorable!

    I'd probably run for the hills over the blowjob question myself.

  10. I asked my mother what a blow job was when I was about 7. While we were on an airplane surrounded by men in business suits. I always tell myself that if she survived that, I can survive anything my kids throw at me.

    I hope.

  11. I do love when we think an incredibly difficult discussion lies ahead and it turns out to be no biggie.

    But I'm now striving to ensure my kids will ask me those tough and/or embarrassing questions. As difficult as those discussions may be, I want my kids to have them with Kyle and me – not other parents or Dr. Google.

  12. I definitely think it's true. My eyes used to be violet, just like Elizabeth Taylor's, but then I stared at Bravo for too long and now they're blue.

    And my daughter is 12. She wears eye shadow and worships at the altar of Hollister, but she still comes to me for advice and just to talk. And she rolls her eyes only behind my back.

  13. For me, it was a role reversal of sorts. During an episode of Two and a Half Men, my mom looked at me sincerely and asked, “Have you ever been with 2 men?” Doesn't she know moms aren't supposed to discuss sex with their kids?

  14. I hope you told her that they would only change colors if she stared at something BAD. Like Hannah Montana.

  15. my 8 year old was reading a book about Abraham Lincoln and asked me,
    “Mom? What's a 'nay-grow'?”

    it was 6:30am.

  16. and another time, when she was 4.5 and her sister was 3 we were on a walk around the neighborhood and she asked me “mama? how do you make a baby?”

    wanting to know what she already knew I asked, “how do you think you make a baby?”

    “Well,” she said, “I think the daddy pees in the mommy's mouth and that turns into a baby in the mommy's tummy.”

    And so…I was faced with 2 choices – let her continue to believe that or tell her the truth – it was a long walk home.

  17. Well does it?

    I think your idea of how to approach all the inevitably impossible to explain questions is bound to be a success. Honesty and sincerity will work….because that's what I'm going to do and I keep telling myself I'm going to be a huge success at this raising kids thing so I don't freak out.

  18. OMG – PRECIOUS post! And someday when you are in the supermarket and she says “Hey mom, can I ask you sumthin'?” and you think she's going to ask if she can get the cool looking red bananas and you distractedly answer “Sure” while you look to see if you have a coupon for the crackers that are on sale and she will say “what's cunnilingus?”.

    Be prepared….

    One day my now-13-but-then-just-6 DS said “Mommy, you're a girl, right?”. When I answered in the affirmative he asked “Well, what's a claporis?”

    I was NEVER SO GLAD IN MY LIFE to be able to honestly say “I don't know; I never heard that word before in my life.”

  19. I figured it would be probably be a question like that (as Mark Twain said, most of our fears are never realized)!

    You still had me going though–I was afraid you weren't going to reveal her question!

    Provocative post–very well done!

    (and “shut up, it's a shirley temple”–that's hilarious!)

  20. I remember once telling my mom that a family friend looked different. The woman had been a local beauty queen and recently had a baby. My mom explained that sometimes women's bodies change after a baby, blah, blah, blah. When she finally was done, I said, “I mean her hair color is different.”

    Thalia's build-up to the question is almost as good as the question itself.

  21. My son (6YO) is very deep and insightful. Last night he actually asked me how many more years my husband and I have on this earth. He wants to live with us forever and was clearly scared about what was going to happen after we die.

    I hesitated, what a question. He's so innocent- he has speech delays that make him sound like a baby. And sometimes he asks these kinds of questions.

    So, I told him that we are both healthy and should have 50 more years of life in us both. It was such a hard question to answer.

    And I hope that we both do.

  22. Practically every question that my boys ask me these days is delicious. They are so curious and thoughtful and inspiring. Except when they are repetitive. And annoying. (“But Mommy! Why can't we have hot dogs for dinner again tonight?”)

  23. As always, your posts make me a better mom.

    We're Christian, but I think it's so important to be sure that doesn't create an “us versus them” environment. When my little ones starting asking questions, I will be careful to say, “we go to church because it is part of our faith.” It's part of how we're different, not better.

  24. Yeah, my son (almost 5) and I were at a Native American powwow a few weeks ago. I thought it would be cool for him to hear all the drums and see the clothing and the dances. He wanted to get in there and dance, and I had to say “we can't.” I so didn't want to say “we're not in their group.” I ended up saying “we don't know the dances.” Sigh.

  25. Hard questions or not, I think it's so critical that our children have close enough relationships with us to ask them. Pretty soon it will be your turn for a really tough one. You'll be great though, cause all these little, easier ones are great practice, really.

  26. A few years ago we had our friends Kim and Suzanne and their two children over for dinner. My then 4yo old son turned to my husband and said “Why don't Ava and Jacob have a daddy?”

    When Jay told me this story, I asked him if he used it as an opportunity to talk about how all families are different, about how just because our family has a mommy, daddy, and 3 boys that not all families look that way, blah blah blah.

    He said “No. I panicked, put them all in the wagon, and went for a walk.”

  27. a few months ago, i drove past a church with my 4-yr old. he asked if that was a church (we're jewish technically, but barely so, and not really in to organized religion at all). i told him yes, and he asked why people go to church – i told him it's just like going to temple and it's to think about god and talk about god. He asked me, “who is god?” I said that no one really knows and no one has ever met god but people think different things about that. Then he said, “it has an 'od' sound. rhymes with 'od'”. Conversation over. Moved on to fire trucks or something.

    The thing about little kids is that they don't realize when they are talking about serious stuff – they don't know that these conversations about death or religion or sex are any more serious that whether your eyes change color when you stare for too long. Or fire trucks. Still I find myself stammering and trying to come up with answers all the time when he's really already moved on from the conversation.

  28. Wow Jen, that's an incredible insight and so true.

    I love all these comments. You all have some smart kids!

  29. To follow up on my earlier comment…when I asked Jay why he panicked, he said all he could think about was trying to explain artificial insemination to a group of 2 and 4 year olds. Talk about making it hard on yourself!

  30. Whew.

    I woke up and realized that my daughter was just as wonderful as I had always suspected, and our world just as messed up as I had always suspected, when she was studying U.S. History. We were talking about George Washington. I had to admit that yes, he had had slaves, which is worse than even George Bush. Wow, not fun.

    She said, “Well, if he had slaves, what right did he have to claim freedom for the United States?” Well said, my child.

    And regarding religion? That's a hard one. I still have friends trying to offer me comfort and grace when they find out I'm an atheist. Never a fun conversation.

  31. “Weird is code for uncomfortable.

    Liz, do you know why that question felt uncomfortable to her?

    I ask because my daughter (now 13, then 3) was hesitating in the same way about asking me a question once and finally asked if she could whisper it. The question was “Will staring at the blue sky change my eyes to blue?” I discovered that she desperately wished she could change the color of her eyes from “ugly” (brown) to “pretty” (blue).

    (The reason she wanted to whisper the question was so she wouldn't hurt my feelings because my eyes are also brown.)

  32. Amazing! I remember asking my dad if my mom was sick because I caught a glimpse of her giving herself a “shot” aka tampon. Oh, dear. Scarred for life.

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