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When Kids Ask Tough Questions (or...More Proof I Have No Idea What I'm Doing)

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Friday, March 30, 2012

When Kids Ask Tough Questions (or...More Proof I Have No Idea What I'm Doing)

I have encouraged Jack's curiosity from Day One.  And, as a result - I have answered a million questions about cement trucks, thunderstorms, ice cream and scorpions.  I have scrolled through jellyfish picture after jellyfish picture on Google images and watched every volcano movie YouTube has to offer.

I think I do a pretty good job answering most of his questions.

But - his questions, until recently, have been easy.

No, I don't know what a purple jellyfish is called, but I can find out.  I have no idea if a storm is coming, but we can look at the weather map.  I don't know why there aren't any volcanoes in Texas, but I can make up a pretty good answer that is mostly correct.  

The questions are getting tougher, though.  Last week, we had two conversations that ended with some real doozies.

The first one went a little something like this:

Jack: Did baby Claire come from your tummy?
Me: Yes (he knows this - we have this conversation daily, and Claire is almost eight months old).
Jack: How did she come out?
Me: She came out of my vagina (he knows this too).
Jack: How did she get IN your tummy?
Me: Uhhh...that's where babies come from.  They grow in their mommy's tummy.
Jack: But how did she GET IN YOUR TUMMY?
Me: .......silence.......

Here's the thing.  I want to be honest with him.  I'm not going to make anything up.  I want to tell him the truth (unless, of course, we're talking about Santa or the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy, but that's a whole different post).  

But he's THREE!

How much truth can a three-year-old handle?

I don't know the answer to that.  I didn't expect to get this question until he was older.  And if we were older, I'd have more of a plan.  A book that explains these things, or something!  But...right now?  I am just at a loss.

So, I did what any good mom would do (ha) and told him that was a great question and that I'd get him a book to explain how babies get into their mom's tummies.  

Which led me to a massive search on Amazon, which ended up leaving me with even *more* questions about what's appropriate for his age and level of understanding.


But that conversation has nothing on the one we had the next day.

Driving to the Arboretum, we start talking about dinosaurs - and in no time, that leads to Jack asking where the dinosaurs are today.

Me: They're all dead.
Jack: How'd they die?
Me: I don't know.

This goes on...and on...and on...until I say something along the lines of, "Maybe they died in ice and lava and because they ran out of food."

There is silence while this information is processed.


Jack: Will they come back?
Me (oh shit...I can see where this is going...) Umm, no, they won't come back.
Jack: Why not?
Me: Because they're dead.


Jack: Do people die?
Me: Yes, people die.
Jack: Where do people go when they die?
Me: To heaven.
Jack: Where's heaven?
Me: Well,'s kind of in the clouds?
Jack: Are there toys there?
Me: Yes.
Jack: Do people come back from heaven?
Me: No, once they go to heaven they stay there.

This goes on, and on...each question leads to another one.  I can tell Jack is getting agitated, and his questions are getting more intense.  He wants to know if people stop walking when they die, what heaven is like, if people can visit heaven for awhile and come home, and worst of all...he wants to know if kids die (to which I say, "not usually" and leave it at that...although with Jack, there is no leaving it at that).

Now, I am trying (trying SO hard) to be upbeat and honest without scaring him - but at the same time, I am trying to change the subject.  Like, trying to change it every other question.  Let's talk about airplanes!  Or our upcoming cruise!  Or our friends and the picnic we are about to have at the Arboretum!  But he will not be deflected.

Then comes the real kicker.  He asks me if I can show him pictures of heaven on my iPhone (is this a 21st century kid, or what?!).

Me: No, there aren't any real pictures of heaven.  No one on earth knows what it looks like.  They can only guess and draw pictures, but I can show you pictures people have drawn.
Jack: How do the pictures get here?  Do people in heaven draw them and throw them down to earth?

At this point, I have exhausted all of my creativity and can hardly keep up with these questions...and, I can tell Jack is upset by this topic despite his relentless curiosity so I just want to TALK ABOUT SOMETHING ELSE, ALREADY.

And somewhere between a conversation about how babies get made, and a casual conversation about dinosaurs that turned into a detailed discussion of the afterlife...I realized that I really have no freaking idea what I'm doing.  Again.

These conversations that we have - often meaningful and perceptive in ways I never imagined a three-year-old could be - make me nervous.  Not because I don't want to answer his questions (although sometimes, I really don't), but because I don't want to mess this up.

This is such an impressionable time in his life.  His little brain is plastic - bending and absorbing and pliable, and at the same delicate.  I take great responsibility in how I answer his questions and to me, it's very important to take him seriously - I want him to know his questions are important, and I want him to always ask questions.

Yet, I stumble.

There's a pretty clear line in the sand when it comes to small children and Truth versus Too Much Information.   There are lots of things that they just don't need to know yet, and mostly, it's pretty easy to figure out what those things are.  But sometimes...I'm just not so sure.

I am stumbling (none too gracefully) through parenthood, waiting for some clear signs or sage advice to appear so I can gain my footing and just know what to do, already.

And until then, I do the best I can and just hope to heaven above I'm not going to ruin my child by answering "Where do babies come?" incorrectly.

And so I ask do you answer a child's tough questions?  Seriously...what do you say in situations like this, and what's appropriate for a three-year-old (especially when he wants to know how babies get in tummies)?


At March 30, 2012 at 10:25 PM , Blogger Heidi Meinecke-Smith said...

I have a nephew that lives with my dad. When he (we'll call him R) was four or five the family cat died. This was a cat my dad got when I was still in High School! And I haven't lived at home for over 15 years, so you know that cat was OLD! I was with my dad when they put him to sleep. He was at least two or three when we got him and had been living with diabetes for a good 5-8 years, including twice daily shots of insulin. I don't know how they explained it to my nephew but I was scared to death I would screw it up if I had to talk to him about it! I wasn't sure what his parents wanted him to know about God or heaven or death! One day shortly after the cat died R asked me about it. I asked him what he had been told and what he thought about that. He told me Mr. Magoo was in heaven. I agreed. He told me he missed Mr. Magoo. I told him "Me too." He asked me a little about heaven and I told him about the same thing you told your son, it's kind of up in the sky, in the clouds. I explained that when people (or pets) go to heaven they are able to watch over us because they become angels. They can help protect us and we can talk to them as much as we want because they can always hear us. Depending on your own religion, kind of like God.
I don't know if there really is a "right or wrong" way to explain things like where babies come from or about heaven or whatever Higher Power you believe in, as long as it goes along with what you believe in. I don't consider it "lying" because if you have faith in something, it just is what it is.
By the way, I also have a wee bit of faith in Santa and the Easter bunny! Just a little bit of their spirit is in anyone that has faith, and that will make them live forever!
Best of luck as we all figure this thing out called mommyhood!!!

At April 1, 2012 at 1:06 PM , Blogger Carrie said...

Thanks for this - and you have good points. Logically, I am pretty sure I'm not going to ruin his childhood by answering "incorrectly" but I still worry about it!

It's also hard because we don't go to church, and faith is such a personal experience...I want him to formulate his own ideas and beliefs but at this point in his life I feel he does need guidance and that it's important to know what we believe.

At April 13, 2012 at 6:01 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm back in Colorado, Norman is here with me, he's grown even a little more, and life is good. Thought I'd check in and see how you were doing. Glad I did. This is a wonderful post. VERY funny, and great to read.

The best advice another mother ever gave me was, "There is no right answer." It's all up to you. What's right for you?

Big help, eh?

Forrest lived around animals breeding and dying. It's natural. It was easy for me to thus be frank, and as such, his curiousity was satisfied, and there were no questions. One more way of looking at life, but your way will be the best way.

Trust yourself and no need to compare you and your family with the folks next door, I say. (Sounds good, but I know that is often easier said than done.)

Best to you and keep up the great work,

At April 14, 2012 at 10:35 PM , Blogger Carrie said...

Hi Gin!! I am so happy to hear Norman is doing well! SO happy.

You're right, and I always try to remind myself that as long as I parent from the heart, I won't have anything (too major, anyway) to regret when my kids are grown. But then I doubt myself, and I freak out. I asked two of my friends the other day how they have answered the "where do babies come from" question and their answers were very different. And their kids appear to be turning out okay. :)

So I really think that is some advice to live by...there is no right answer.

But, I would really love it if there were an easy answer!!

Please give Norman a smooch and a big hug from me. <3


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