Soaking in the bathtub, my five-year-old inquires, "Is broccoli always green?"
Driving past a cemetery, he wonders, "When we die, do we just jump in the dirt and bury ourselves."
On the way to school, he reflects, "Wouldn't it be fun to live in a gas station in Hawaii?"
And as he puts the finishing touches on his block city, "Can you make egg salad with pig meat?"
They come, seemingly, from nowhere, these childish questions. They hang in space. There is no hint of what foreshadows them, no clue as to what may follow. Sometimes they annoy me. Sometimes they entrance me. But they have never been known to put me to sleep.
Most small children haven't yet immersed themselves with the latest clichés. When was the last time you heard a child say, "Have a nice day"?
The questions children ask are anything but trite. Instead of, "How are you today?" it's "What would you do if there was a fire on the road?" In lieu of, "Looks like rain, doesn't it?" it's "You have to kill real old deer, right, Mom?"
No ordinary chit-chat here. No hackneyed phrases.
"Where do robbers live?"
"Does God have a wife?"
"Why do we have to have a face?"
"What if it stayed dark forever?"
"Do mice have squeak boxes instead of voice boxes?"
"When you die, do you come back to life?"
These are questions of importance. Questions which take us to the encyclopedia or leave us searching our minds for universal truths.
Inquiries that make others uncomfortable are readily vocalized by children.
"What if you and dad died at the same time? Would I have to live with the neighbors?"
Questions Miss Manner's readers steer clear of are boldly broached. A few new wrinkles and I get, "Are you almost 100 now, Mom?" (And I thought I was holding up pretty well.)
Questions for which children provide their own rejoinders are often the most jarring of all.
Fondling a few stray hairs above my lip, my son asks, "Are you getting a beard, Mom?"
"No," I insist vehemently.
"Then you must be turning into a 'houndwolf', he reveals.
Last night at bedtime, my son asked his final question of the day. After ordering him to put on pajamas, pick up his room, and get his own glass of water, he glared at me and asked, "Did you know I was just five and one quarter?"
Considering the questions for that day, everything from, "Do aliens have to brush their teeth?" to "Who invented the universe?" all I could answer was, "You could have fooled me."
Yes, children's questions can be annoying. Sometimes they remind us we have given up on finding answers to questions we once so passionately put forth. Sometimes they make us doubt the "right answer" we decided upon years ago.
And sometimes they cause so much discomfort we start questioning all over again...questioning things like how we got to, "Nice weather we're having today, isn't it?" when we started at, "When is dad going to take me dragon fighting?"