Every day I buckle my kids into their car seats, walk to the driver’s seat of my minivan and prepare for an intense round of questions. The inquisitor is my five year old daughter, Heidi, positioned diagonally behind me, able to watch my profile, hands, and most important, my eyes in the rear view mirror. She needs no lie detector, no fact checker. Her barrage begins as I back the car out of the driveway when she’s certain that it’s just her, the open road, and a captive adult yearning to drive free.
Did you use your blinker? Is that car speeding? Why are we going this way? How fast can we go on this street? Why can we only go 25 miles per hour? Why aren’t there sidewalks? Would it be dark now if it were December? Why is that car green? Why does the driver like the color green?
Heidi can toss out five to seven questions a minute, depending on the length of my answers and/or pleas for mercy. If a typical drive is fifteen minutes, we’re talking 75 to 105 questions just trying to pick up a gallon of milk. But, let’s say she’s tired and is only able to ask three a minute, it still means I’ve formulated 45 answers in fifteen minutes, scoring more in a quarter than LeBron James does in an entire game, though, obviously, I am compensated far less for my work.
The only other people I know who deal with this kind of bombardment of questions are press secretaries. But, even they, at some point, have the luxury of saying, “that’s all for now, folks,” and walking off stage to be met by an aide, and perhaps, an ice cold Fresca.
In our car, the questions don’t stop until something forces me to yell, usually rather loudly, that a Mack truck is going ram our minivan into oblivion if she doesn’t cool it and, “let me concentrate on the road.”
That wins me two minutes (6-21 questions) of relief.
So, I feel no guilt or hidden fear that I am an inadequate parent when I say that when it comes to my five year old’s minivan inquisitions: I’ve cracked under pressure.
“What is the name of the boy singing this song?”
You’d like to think this was an easy question, wouldn’t you?
But, let me first say that the song we were listing to was one we’d heard at least 107 times, the first on a mix-CD given out as a party favor. The mother of the birthday child asked each five year old to submit his or her favorite song, which leads me to the song in question.
Apparently five year olds are really into Coldplay. This fact depresses me because I am, only now, discovering that they are a band I should have known about five years ago.
What is the name of the lead singer in Coldplay?
“Ah....Chris?” I said, knowing this was only the beginning.
“Why did his parents name him Chris?”
I’d like you to now stand up, do five jumping jacks, hop on one leg and recite the first two lines of the Gettysburg address while trying to speculate why the parents of a British born rock star chose, on March 2, 1977 to name their son Christopher Anthony John Martin.
If only Heidi had asked me why Chris Martin and his wife Gwyneth Paltrow had named their daughter Apple, I’d have had a shot.
When you name your child after a piece of fruit you eventually have to share your thought-process, but most parents who name their sons Chris can go entire decades before ever being asked “for the record--why?”
“I....I really have absolutely no idea,” I said.
I should have referred her to chapter seven, article three of the handbook, “Questions I’ve Already Asked my Mom When She’s Going 60mph” but I felt compelled to rehash our previous discussion on the naming prerogative of parents.
“Maybe his parents liked the name. Maybe it’s a family name.”
Silence, tantamount to skepticism coming from back row.
“Do you like the name Chris?” I asked her.
It’s a classic move, to ask the interrogator a question in an effort to deflect attention, and it got me out of the hot seat on the Chris Martin issue.
But there would be others. Several hundred more that day, culminating in the ones asked during the second most popular time ask questions of mom: bedtime. Specifically, when we read books.
Catching me when I am weak is a key component to my daughter’s strategy. She smells fatigue and pounces.
Usually when we’re on the title page.
We can easily spend ten minutes and never get past the ISBN.
What is the name of the author? Where did they live? When did they live? Are they dead now? Why did they write this book? Did you read this book when you were little? Who gave me this? Why? Why did they think I’d like it?
I once invented what I thought was a brilliant, ripped from the parenting magazines, solution. I gave my daughter ten cards and said each one earned her the ability to ask one question. When she’d used up all ten cards, no more questions.
She loved the process of raising her hand, saying, “excuse me mom,”, asking a question, and placing each card in the growing stack of used up credits. But, when she got to the last card and realized her supply would not be replenished she had an uncharacteristic melt down.
“I don’t like this game!”
I’d have given it another go the next night, but I felt mean—I was “rationing” thought and that just seemed wrong.
But, answering questions all day is hard work. There’s the physical strain—actually speaking, using oxygen, using the voice, articulating ideas, all this done at times times when most people regroup or replenish. Do you drink a glass of water at lunch, or use that time to answer why you put mayonnaise instead of mustard on your turkey sandwich?
There is also the mental energy it requires. I recently drove to the dentist by myself and realized when I arrived how relaxing the ten minutes without answering questions had been. I was free to be alone with my thoughts and daydream about the imminent removal of tartar from my gum line. It was so peaceful.
But, there is something else that explains the absolute exhaustion I feel at the end of a day of questioning.
A five year old shaves ideas down to their very core, asking why...followed by why....followed by.....why.
Eventually, I feel a philosophical and somewhat emotional depletion.
How did she learn the Socratic Method while watching "Curious George"?
W.K. C. Gutherie is quoted as saying this in his book The Greek Philosophers, quoted on Wikipedia:
“Socrates was accustomed to say that he did not himself know anything, and that the only way in which he was wiser than other men was that he was conscious of his own ignorance, while they were not. The essence of the Socratic Method is to convince the interlocutor that whereas he thought he knew something, in fact he does not.”
Whereas I thought I knew something....in fact....I do not. I am reminded of my ignorance on a daily, hourly basis.
But, that, as they say, is the first step to knowledge.
No wonder these five year olds ask so many questions....