My son, who recently turned ten, asks hard questions. Each year I write down some of the best. At age seven he asked about whales and sharks and snakes. At nine he asked if TV was black and white when I was young.
If you forgot what it’s like to be ten, this will remind you. His questions tend to be thematic. He asks a lot related to death and disaster. For example:
Have you been in a fire?
Have you known people who died?
Would you die if you were hit by a taxi?
How many times can you be hit by lighting and live?
If you go outside and it’s minus 200 degrees how many minutes before you freeze to death?
He asks about big life choices:
Would you rather be a police officer or firefighter?
How much money does the person make who works behind the cash register?
How much does an engineer or snake breeder make?
He said he knows how much doctors make. He says his friend’s grandfather was a surgeon who made $2 million and bought a mansion in Michigan. My son wants to be a surgeon so he can afford a Jacuzzi and a pet monkey.
Some of his questions are straight forward:
Why do some people have middle names and some don’t?
What’s Mozart’s middle name?
Will people go to Mars when I grow up?
Does anyone have longer eyelashes than me?
Have you ever eaten rabbit?
Sometimes I answer. “Yes,” I told him, “I have eaten rabbit.” I explained that a long time ago when I lived in Norway I watched a friend pluck one from a pen in the backyard, beat it to death with a bat and then skin and cook it.” His eyes grew wide. He loved that answer.
Some questions are aimed at measuring the world:
How heavy is the heaviest human?
How big is a possum?
How many miles in a kilometer?
How long are the longest fingernails?
Who is the greatest chef?
Other questions are wonderfully strange:
What does nose hair smell like?
How did Jesus get crucified if his mother was there? Did she get crucified too?
Do we need to sell the dog to pay for my brother to go to college?
If my dog only had 5 minutes to live could I sell him?
I love being asked these questions and worry about the day I know is coming when they will end. It won’t happen all at once, of course. It will end with a whimper, not a bang.
We surround our kids with signs that make them cautious. Signs that tell them everything they cannot do. No skateboarding, no ball playing, no playing without a permit. Signs that warn them about the world: Watch out for falling snow or rock slides.
Supposedly kids laugh more than adults. They certainly ask more questions. I don’t think its because they don’t know as much. It’s because they haven’t learned not to ask. Gradually they learn the limitations.
Adults, it seems, are eager to provide answers, not pose questions. My son is still brimming with questions, but already he’s showing signs of “growing up.”
Recently he asked me how much money I make. “Not enough,” I said. He pondered that for a minute and asked:
“What time do you go to work?”
“About 8 a.m.,” I said.
“Why don’t you get in earlier, like at 6 a.m.,” he said.
“You’d get more done and your boss would give you a raise,” he said.
I realized that although the conversation had started with a question it hadn’t ended with one. He was already on the path to providing solutions. Soon enough the questions would dwindle.
But in the meantime I savored one inspired by recent events: “If the North Koreans fire a missile from Times Square could they hit Central Park?”
“Yes,” I told him. “I don’t think they would miss from that distance.”
**Published by Ted Merz Aug 20, 2017**