According to the all-knowing Internet, the average 4-year-old asks about 400 questions a day.
I’d say that’s a lowball number. Or my son is an over-achiever.
Matthew asks questions all the time, all day long. One minute he’s sitting quietly in his car seat in the back of the car, humming “Bad Moon Rising” and absentmindedly picking his nose, and the next moment he’s asking, “But, Mommy? How does the baby get IN the mommy’s tummy?”
One of the great things about being a stay-at-home mom is that I get to field about 350 of those 400 questions. Every. Day. And, obviously, my 4-year-old’s questions aren’t always easy. Recent topics include such doozies as God, death, where babies come from, and, of course, poop.
[On God]: “So God is, like, magic? And knows everything? Is God Santa Claus?”
[On the recent death of one of our cats]: “So, you and Daddy left Beau at the vet’s office after he died? Does that mean the vet’s office is Cat Heaven?”
[On how babies get OUT of their mommies]: “YOU SHOWED EVERYONE IN THE HOSPITAL YOUR VAGINA???? “
[And, to his brother]: “Why are you such a poopy stinky butt?”
(Well, that one got less of an answer than a time-out, really.)
In general I try to answer my son’s questions as honestly and as factually as I can (except for the one about babies getting IN to their mommies’ tummies. I’m dodging that one for another few years). Of course, I use language that’s accessible to a four-year-old, and sometimes I might not exactly know EVERYTHING about the subject in question, but I give it a go. So when I answered “How are tornadoes made?” with “Um, when warm air and cool air bump into each other and the warm air wants to go up and the cold air wants to go down so they end up swirling around each other and making a tornado,” I felt ok about it. He’s only four.
Of course, sometimes I don’t have enough information to satisfy my little professor. So I do what I always have done with my students: I admit I don’t know, and I point him toward other reliable sources of information. We have checked out library books on volcanoes (“But how hot is lava for REAL?”), looked up information on the solar system on the internet (“But what is the asteroid belt made OF?”), and read newspaper articles together (“But WHEN will the robot get to Mars? WHEN??”). And, very very very often, I refer him to his dad.
It turns out this may be a mistake.
Because, the other day at bedtime we had this conversation, which I thought was about evolution:
Matthew: “What kind of animal were mosquitoes before they were mosquitoes?”
Me: (having had enough questions and not enough caffeine) “I don’t know.”
Matthew: “I know who I’ll ask. I’ll ask Daddy or Uncle Johnnie or Papa or Grandpa. They’ll know.”
Me: (something is up here) “What about Grandma?”
Two-year-old brother (just happy to be involved): “Or Baba!!!”
Matthew: “Oh, they MIGHT know. But men are better at figuring things out than women.”
Me: (mouth literally agape) “What? Who told you that?”
Matthew (shrugging): “Me. I just thought it up myself.”
At this point I am starting to sweat. This is big stuff here, but it’s already bedtime and I’m on solo duty tonight. I’m also tired, and tired of questions.
Here’s what I WANT to say:
“Oh, Daddy and Uncle Johnnie, eh? The very two men who as we speak are at a Phish concert, probably swaying and playing slo-mo air guitar to some 15-minute-long, trippy version of “Hush Little Baby,” or some other such nonsense? Yes, I’m sure they’d give you a GENIUS answer to your question, darling.”
Here’s what I ACTUALLY say:
“What about Dr. Harvey? She’s a woman, and she knows a lot.”
Matthew’s response? “Yeah, but men doctors know more about people than women doctors.”
FOR THE LOVE OF GLORIA STEINEM, WHAT HAVE I DONE WRONG???
Now, I made a little jokey there about my husband but the truth is that other than his taste in music, he is an amazingly smart man. It’s part of what attracted me to him in the first place. This is a man who majored in math—MATH!—at an Ivy League college because, he says, “I knew it would be easy and I wouldn’t have to work too hard.” He reads pretty much everything he can get his hands on, and really does know a lot about a lot. Which is why he is my go-to back-up question answerer.
But when I refer my son to him when I don’t know something, am I sending the message that if a woman doesn’t know, the best course of action is to ask a man?? Good lord, I thought I was passing the buck but instead I’m taking down a generation’s work advancing women?? And how is it that my darling son has forgotten that I successfully (as far as he knows) answer over THREE HUNDRED of his crazy questions every day?? And I almost never say something like, “WHY is it so important to know why bumblebees don’t sting? WHY? LEAVE ME TO MY FACEBOOK AND WATCH YOUR YO GABBA GABBA QUIETLY!”
Anyway, this is fair warning to my mother-in-law, my stepmom, my sisters, my aunts, my grandma, and any other woman who has the bad luck of walking her dog past our house in the near future. I may be sending a small, underwear-clad boy your way—either via Skype or in person—with some random question about skunks or wind or gravity or who knows what else. Please, don’t let me—and all the women of the world—down.