I am up to my earlobes in the toddler world of “why.”
“Lilah, put on your shoes please.” Why?
“Because we have to go pick up your sisters from school and you need to wear shoes to walk to the car.” Why?
“Because the pavement is hot and it will hurt your feet if you don’t wear shoes.” Why?
“Because the sun is shining really brightly today and that makes things very hot outside and things that are very hot can hurt you and give you an ouchy.” Why?
“Because our bodies don’t like it when we touch things that are very, very hot. It hurts.” Why?
Anyone who’s ever attempted a conversation with a toddler knows that it is a never-ending banter that eventually spirals down into a teeny tiny pin-dot, a badminton birdie, being lofted back and forth. As soon as I answer her “why,” she gently thwacks another one at me, until I’m left with three choices: squash this irksome inquiry with a firm “Because I said so!”, come up with a toddler-friendly way to explain bodily functions or astronomy or laws of nature or change the subject.
“Do you need to pee? I think you should pee-pee before we go,” I say as I shuttle her off to the bathroom, barefoot.
Toddlers are relentless. They want to know everything. It’s annoying and tedious and awesome and brilliant. At a few months shy of three, Lilah is on to me. She no longer takes my simple answers as absolute treatises on matters like why trees have leaves (so they can breathe) and toes have toenails (um, I don’t know). This kid wants more and I am her walking, talking encyclopedia, her life-coach, her Google, her all-knowing Wonderful Wizard of Mom.
Yes, it’s irritating, but there’s also something in it for me. I find myself paying attention to small things I might otherwise have skipped. I’m seeing the layers, peeling back the “what” to think about the “why.” Why is the moon still in the sky in the morning? Why is it warm outside even when it’s cloudy? Why is cheese stinky? I know the basic answers to these questions, but I don’t really give myself the time or space to really wonder. Not in the same way little Lilah does.
This morning while walking the dog, I point out the newly blooming jasmine along the front of our house. “Give it a sniff,” I say and Lilah sucks a great big gulp of air through her nose. I silently hope she’s not allergic to pollen.
“It smells sweet,” she says. Then she turns to me with big eyes and says, “Why?”
I’m about to go into an ad-hoc explanation about how some flowers are fragrant while others aren’t when I stop myself.
“You tell me,” I say, waiting to see what turning the tables will do. She peers through the flowers as if the answer is hiding deep down in the bush’s tangled inner branches. The dog pees. A minivan drives by.
“Because so the bees can smell it and make their honey house!” she says, completely delighted. “And then Pooh can eat it,” she adds.
The toddler’s why is infinitely more beautiful and simple than anything I could have mustered from my way too grown up brain. For her, the real and the made-up weave around each other to make sense of the world. And why not? Not every lesson has to be based in fact.
Lilah takes my hand as we start back down the street, both wondering about bee noses and talking honey bears and where we might find the next why.