Ninety-three percent of the relationship between a mother and her children is comprised of answering questions. The same questions. Over and over and over.
They never tell you that in the parenting books. Or at the hospital.
“This is how you change a diaper…and here’s how you get them to latch on…and you need to clean their umbilical cord stump like this…and are you prepared to spend the next twenty years of your life answering the same pointless questions on repeat?”
I guess it would be a bit overwhelming to find that out when you’re just trying to figure out how to properly hold a freshly popped-out miniature human.
But it’s true.
All children’s questions can fall into these categories:
1. What is happening next?
Examples: What are we having for lunch? When can we see Gramamma and Pop again? When will I lose my first tooth? How many days until we go on vacation again? When can I get a parrot for my birthday?
2. Can I have?
Examples: Can I have candy? Can I have that toy? Can I eat my pancake even though it dropped on the floor? Can I have random object that doesn’t exist anywhere in the known universe except in my head?
3. Why not?
Examples: Why can’t I stay up until midnight? Why can’t I eat candy for breakfast? Why can’t I have the random object that I just made up?
4. Will you get me?
Examples: Will you get me some juice? Will you get me a snack? Will you get me that box of stickers on the top shelf of your closet that will almost certainly cause a landslide of other random objects to pour down onto your head?
5. Are we there yet?
Example: I know we just pulled out of the driveway, but by some beautiful coincidence have we also just arrived at our destination?
6. What does that say?
Examples: What does that sign say? How about that sign? And that sign? And that sign and that sign and that sign and that sign?
7. What does that mean?
Examples: What does vasectomy mean? What does episiotomy mean? What does incessant questioning mean?
Questioning has always been the biggest hobby of the shorter members of our family, but lately, we have been plagued (and I do mean plagued – like the-land-crawling-in-locusts-plagued) with the first category of questions. Our two children seem to be obsessed with the future, and spend 99% of the present asking about said future.
I don’t think Chris quite believed me when I told him how bad it had gotten (“Like locusts in your ears, in your cereal, in your toilet, in your sealed water bottle bad, honey”), because when I suggested we have a family meeting about this problem, he seemed to think this too drastic a step.
Until the weekend came.
“I’ll answer all their questions this weekend”, he vowed.
I readily agreed. It’s not that Chris is normally unhelpful – he’s actually the most helpful sort – but fathers have the ability to completely tune out children – especially their steady stream of questioning – in a way that mothers can only lust after.
Chris took the family to the mall to see a traveling Lego exhibit. During the entire tour of the mall, he was barraged with the locusts flowing from our children’s mouths.
“Are we almost there?”
“Can we go to the hot dog truck next?”
“When are we going to eat dinner?”
“When I’m ten do you think I’ll be able to do a cartwheel?”
“Are we going to eat dinner at the mall?”
“Can I have a car when I grow up?”
“Can we go to Build-A-Bear and make a Minion?”
“Can we ride the train?”
He answered each question with a carefully measured level of patience and ignored my smug sideways smiles.
Finally, he started answering with, “Just enjoy the present, kids. No more questions about the future. We’re at the mall doing something special. Just focus on that.”
The questions then got modified to focus on “the present”.
“What is the next Lego exhibit we’re going to see?”
“When will we find the Lego White House?”
“When we grow up can we make giant Lego sculptures like this?”
My smile began to have giggling sound effects as I filled with glee at not being the only one to realize that our children had jumped headfirst down the rabbit hole of endless parental inquisition.
We piled into the car and Chris sucked in a deep, calming breath.
I went ahead and said it for him.
“We need to have a family meeting, kids.”
“Y’all have got to quit asking so many questions about the future. We can’t always, or don’t want to always, answer them. We will inform you what is going to happen next when when choose. So. We’re going to have a code word that Daddy and I will say when you’ve just asked a question about the future, and you’ll know that code word means ‘we’re not going to answer that and you need to not ask questions like that ever, ever again.’ So – what would y’all like the code word to be?”
(We’ve done this code word trick once before and it was a great way to not feel like we were nagging all the time. Ali was having a problem biting her lower lip and was therefore pushing her two front teeth outward, making the dentist threaten early braces. So we came up with the code word “strawberry”, and every time we said that to her she was to quit biting her bottom lip. It helped break the habit and we didn’t have to waste syllables constantly.)
Ali: “How about Snickerdoodle?”
Me: “Too long. I’m going to be saying this code word A LOT. I need something two syllables or less.”
Ali: “Then just Doodle?”
Me: “We like Doodle’s Sorbet too much. Let’s not sully that name.”
Ali: “Okay. Could we use a car name?”
Me: “Honda is perfect. So anytime Daddy or I say ‘Honda’, you both know what that means. Right?”
It took approximately two minutes.
“Where are we going for dinn—“ “HONDA!”
Then, at dinner, “When I’m twelve can I get a kitten?”
“That’s like the biggest Honda ever.”
Then, after dinner, “Where are we going next?”
“Are we there yet?”
“Are we close to there yet?”
It hasn’t slowed the questioning yet, but Honda is calling and wanting their royalty check.