My son has now reached the inquisitive stage of early childhood, more succinctly known as the “Why?” phase. I am still trying to find a balance between encouraging this critical moment of cognitive development and not overloading him with unnecessary information. An example would be in the parking lot of one of his T-Ball games when I pointed out that his teammate was getting out of the car next to us with his father (also the coach):
Me: There is the coach and your friend getting out of that car.
Me: They rode together to come to the game.
Me: Because the coach is his dad and the whole family came in one car just like we did.
Me: Why did they ride in the same car?
Him: No….Why is the coach his dad?
It was at this juncture that I had to make a critical choice. I could redirect the line of question to
something innocuous or follow him down the rabbit hole. I chose poorly……
Me: Because he and your friend’s mommy are his parents.
Me: Because before he was born they met, found each other mutually attractive and decided to commit to a relationship that involved having children.
I was briefly tempted to begin a soliloquy on societal norms and the ethics of procreation and monogamy, but thankfully my son rescued me from my own moronic impulses by asking, “Did they bring snacks?”
We have also recently begun having discussions about employment, capitalism and economic inequality. Just about every morning my son will ask me why I have to go to work. I had previously been able to placate him with something vague about it “being a workday” but this sort of thing no longer suffices. I then told him that I went to work so that I could get money to pay our bills. He countered with the inevitable “Why?” and I did not think that he was ready for the Adam-Smith-reciprocal-economy-versus-capitalism talk, so I just told him that when we go to the grocery we need money to get food.
He then asked if it “costs me anything” to go to work. Feeling that it was unnecessary to shoulder him the with concept of the mental - and occasionally emotional - burdens of providing for the economic security of the ones you love, I just told him that if it costs you money to go to work then “you are doing it wrong.”
This seemed to satisfy him, but I know that it will not be long until I am faced with more “why” questions and I am thankful that I get some practice runs before I have to explain hatred, poverty, famine, war and why the U.S. Postal Service cannot seem to move a package between two contiguous states without going through Texas first.
The day is rapidly approaching where I will no longer be able to give him easy answers. As difficult as it will be, perhaps my job is simply to equip him to wrestle with the mystery of existence. Even more importantly, how to find peace while existing in that mystery. He is going to ask why people hurt each other. Why he will grow up with advantages (and burdens) that were not available to (or placed upon) his peers. Why the society he lives in puts so much emphasis on characteristics we have taught him are superficial and secondary. Why it is entirely possible to do the right thing and be rewarded with the wrong outcome and why heartache and loss can make you feel that your soul is being ripped apart.
I look forward to the man he will become, but there will always be a part of me that wishes I could protect and preserve the innocence of his childhood. That some part of his spirit could forever reside within the confines of an existence that knows only unconditional love from those appreciate his sensitivity, his heart, and his curiosity for what they are: a glimpse of the God whose grace allows contentment and mystery to coexist.