Saturday, January 3, 2015


At some point along the way, I received the advice that, when it comes to difficult subjects, take their lead. When they ask, answer their questions (and only their questions.) I've realized though that the hard part is actually hearing their questions, from their 3 or 4 or 5 year-old point of view. What's not such a great idea? Hearing the topic, and spewing out everything I know in relation to it. I may or may not have this propensity. Especially with my first born, who, by virtue of being born first and born wise, can trick me into forgetting that five is actually quite small. Not all of her questions lead me down this slippery slope.

Some are just impossible: 'Where did the first strawberry come from?'
Some are simply beyond me (it doesn't take much): 'Why does the earth rotate on a tilt?*

It's the questions I have at least partial answers for that require that delicate balance between being honest and age-appropriate. And when the one asking the questions regularly appears at my bedside in the middle of the night to anxiously whisper that she's 'dehydrated' or that her newly emerging molars are most definitely causing pieces of her gum to fall out, or (like last night) that she can't feel her heartbeat(!), that balance becomes even more crucial.

The first time she asked why a friend from pre-k had two homes--one with her mommy and one with her daddy--I almost found myself attempting to explain the dynamics of love and the causes of divorce. First of all, unqualified. Second of all, she did not even ask about divorce. Instead, we had a brief conversation about families coming in all shapes and sizes.

After the twentieth time being asked about the sanitary napkin dispensers in the public restrooms, I gave it my best shot: When a girl grows up, her body is capable of growing a baby. Every month it releases an egg and the uterus prepares itself in case a baby does come along. It develops a thick lining made of blood and tissues which can nourish a baby and provide a cozy home. If the egg doesn't get fertilized by the sperm, then that lining comes out each month. The sanitary napkins absorb that lining. She was unalarmed by this information. A sign that I had achieved that balance.

But then there was the time that I found myself explaining how x-ray machines were used on pregnant women to see the unborn fetuses. It was new, exciting technology; mothers could see their babies before they were even born! It became very popular very fast. During this time, a female scientist noticed that many children were getting cancer.
(More questions: 'What is cancer?')
The scientist discovered that the x-rays were the cause of the children's cancer.
('How did she know?)
It took 25 years for the practice to stop.
We discussed how people are slow to change. Slow to accept a new manifestation. Slow to accept the equality of religions, of races, of genders. She kept wanting more. So I told her about her partner, the statistician, who did everything in his power to prove her wrong by looking at the data from every possible angle. And how grateful she was for him. She was interested only in the truth--even if it proved her wrong. Only he didn't prove her wrong; he confirmed her findings. By asking questions from every possible angle and welcoming others' questions, she arrived at the truth.

That was the easy part. She had to take that truth and do something with it. For 25 years she worked tirelessly to change the way x-rays were used so that no more children would be harmed.

Yeah. I'm pretty sure this one got away from me. She didn't seem too traumatized, though I'm quite sure most of it was over her head. Oh well--I just hope she got the impression that questions are good. Never stop questioning.

Maybe we'll revisit this later. If we do, I'll tell her to be like the statistician: Ask your own questions. Find your own answers. That if enough of us stop imitating the past, we'll have a chance at remaking the future. One in which we decide for ourselves whether the color of our skin, the name of our God, our gender, or sexual orientation actually mattter at all.

"By its aid thou shalt see with thine own eyes and not through the eyes of others, and shalt know of thine own knowledge and not through the knowledge of thy neighbor."  -Baha'u'llah

* I didn't have a clue, but encouraged her to hypothesize. Without so much as a pause, she said, "I think a piece of a planet from outer space knocked into it and made it crooked." Well, duh! I'm just going to assume from now on that she already knows the answers. She's just seeing if I do too.

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