Parents all complain about the “why” phase–you know, that part of the child’s normal development (and it is normal, it is, I swear, even if they’re asking things like “why is ham from a pig butt and not a horse butt?”).
I always felt a little smug about this, like I was way more enlightened and patient than average because I never resorted to saying “BECAUSE!” It wasn’t that annoying, after all. Just a bit repetitive.
And then I realized that Mary was just behind the curve.
She’s been asking “why?” for years, of course. But apparently for most children this behavior peaks around age 3. Not for Mary. She’s 5.
I had no idea–none–how annoying this could be. On the one hand, it’s awesome. She’s a sponge. She wants to learn everything. And she DOES learn everything. If I say it, or if she reads it, she remembers it.
On the other hand…oh my God. PLEASE STOP ASKING QUESTIONS BEFORE I HAVE TO GO TO A MENTAL INSTITUTION (and leave you to make your own sandwiches and take the lids off your own yogurt cups).
The dividing line between “Good question!” and “Huh?” is basically this: is it a question that anyone can answer? Because if it’s a question that no person on this earth can answer, it’s an annoying question.
And therein lies the problem: to a 5-year-old, most things are equally mysterious. For Mary, these questions all have the same likelihood of getting a rational response:
“Why are we turning left?”
“Why can’t I have a Popsicle?”
“Why is that guy’s car brown?”
“Why is Wesley only a little shorter than I am?”
“How old are you?”
“How old is thirty-one?”
“Why does my teacher like purple?”
“How long is a year?”
“What’s a month?”
“Why are TVs rectangles?”
“Why is a rectangle a rectangle?”
“Why is it called a rectangle?”
So I try to answer as many as I can. Sometimes I think I’m very clever, as when I tell her that “rectangle” comes from the Latin word for “right,” because the corners are all right angles.
Then she asks, “Why is that the word for ‘right’?”
And the thing is, while I know that she’s asking all of these questions because she’s trying to make sense of the enormous load of data that comes in from the whole world–there are also moments when I am 98% convinced that she’s just fucking with me.