I have never been very good at tolerating stupid questions.
Which sometimes makes it hard to parent a toddler.
PH loves the toddler years. He hated the baby stage, but he loves answering the kind of aggravating questions demanded by our child every minute of every day.
I am not so patient.
My struggle with stupid questions began in childhood.
For several years my only friend was a girl who was funny, generally kind, and shared my love of animals and imaginary play. Unfortunately for her, and me, she wasn’t very scholastic, and tended to ask what I considered to be really stupid questions.
And I didn’t handle it well.
I don’t know why stupidity sets my temper off so much, but I could never just handle stupid questions calmly.
When my friend, who was 12 at the time, asked me what “unpredictable” meant, or asked me what two times eleven was, I couldn’t just calmly define “unpredictable” or say “22” like a normal friend might.
I felt compelled to make her THINK.
“It’s the opposite of predictable. Do you know what predictable means? HOW CAN YOU BE IN GRADE SIX AND NOT KNOW WHAT PREDICTABLE MEANS?”
“How can you not know what two times eleven is? The eleven times table is easy! What’s two times one? OKAY NOW DO THAT TWICE.”
To her credit, she handled my flares of temper quite calmly.
But I knew that my meanness got to her, and if she hasn’t been in direct contact with me since we were 14, even turning down an invitation to my wedding, it’s my own fault.
I knew I had a problem, and I really did work on it.
One year I made my New Year’s Resolution “Be nicer to Lucy” and I hung it on my door so I could see it every time I went into my bedroom.
I learned to swallow a lot of mean thoughts and give more basic answers to questions that seemed painfully stupid to me. And when I couldn’t do that, I at least managed to be kinder in my explanations.
But I didn’t perfect it.
All through junior high and high school I struggled with responding to questions that I perceived as stupid without biting people’s heads off. I found that quantity mattered. One stupid question I could handle. Maybe even two, or three. But if I heard too many in a day I’d start to snap.
But every year of my life, I have gotten better at keeping my temper when people ask me stupid questions, or don’t seem to understand basic things.
For a while I even believed that I had completely overcome this problem.
If anything, I am frequently praised for my patience with difficult clients, and my ability to explain things clearly to people.
…Then I became mother to a toddler.
I’ve never been a fan of toddlers, but I am actually quite enjoying Owl’s toddlerhood. His crazy imagination, his constant amazed discovery of basic things, his ever-expanding vocabulary.
Even though I am immensely proud of how bright Owl seems to be, even though my Daycare Lady has told me before that he’s the smartest kid in her care, even though I gloat over the fact that he can do basic math, knows his colours, the planets, the alphabet, and can do 60 piece puzzles…
He is still a toddler, and therefore FULL of stupid questions.
Maybe stupid isn’t quite the right word. After all, I don’t expect him to know inherently why he shouldn’t destroy budding flowers or why it isn’t okay to hit cars with large branches. These are things that need to be taught, and I recognize that this is my job.
And I can handle that, and it’s rewarding to hear him say “OH! That a baby flower? It gonna grow into a big flower? Like dat one? Oh… I break it, it no can grow? Oh… OKAY…”
Those aren’t the questions I’m talking about. I’m talking about questions like
“Mommy, what’s DAT?”
“…That’s a tree, Owl. You know what trees are…”
“What’s that tree DOING?”
“… it’s growing. It’s being a tree. What do you mean, what is it doing?”
Other times he invents crazy manoeuvres and then asks me to name them. He’ll put his head between his legs while flapping his arms like an autistic chicken and say “Mommy, what I doing??”
And on one level, yes, I understand that he thinks the world is just full of actions with names, and that he hopes that by inventing them one by one he can learn ALL the words. I also understand that he believes that his father and I are bottomless pits of words for every conceivable thing.
Intellectually, I understand.
But my gut reaction is to think “If you don’t know what you’re doing, THEN WHY ARE YOU DOING IT?”
So I really have to take a deep breath before I try and answer his crazy questions because otherwise I might say just that.
And sometimes there’s just no answer.
For example, his developing brain doesn’t perceive things as wholes the same way that mine does. When I see a car, for example, I see a CAR, not a fender and windows and hood and wheels and radio antenna and so on.
But he sees things in bits.
So he’ll ask me for the name of part of something and often, that thing doesn’t have a separate name. Not one that I know, anyway.
“What’s dis, Mommy?”
“That’s a slide, honey. You know what a slide is.”
“No, dis! What’s DIS?”
“That’s the slide.”
“No, DIS I SAID.”
“That’s the slide part of the slide, Owl. It’s the part you slide on. It’s called a slide. I don’t really know what else to tell you.”
“Oh. DIS is a slide?”
“YES, OWL, IT’S A SLIDE. THE SLIDE IS A SLIDE!”
Sometimes I have an answer, but Owl isn’t intellectually capable of understanding it, and I end up frustrated because I WANT to explain, but I know that it’s way above his comprehension.
“Mommy, what’s dis?”
“It’s a leaf, honey. You know what leaves are.”
“That’s the leaf.”
“NO. DIS!! DIS ON THE LEAF.”
“Oh, that… that’s… part of the leaf honey.”
“What dis part called?”
“It’s… it’s called the vein of the leaf.”
“Oh. The vein?”
“Yes, Owl. Now come on, honey, we’ll be late for school.”
“Mommy, what dis vein FOR?”
“It… it…” and mentally I try and figure out how to explain that vascularization allows the xylem and phloem access to the leaf so that glucose and minerals absorbed through the roots can be transferred to the cells within the leaf and then transfer the energy derived by photosynthesis back to the rest of the plant. But I know there’s no point, because the day before I tried to explain what leaves were for, and he found “they collect sunlight so the plant can grow” too complex.
“It’s… just part of the leaf, honey, please put it down, because it’s time to go to the car. Do you want to walk or run?”
After just half an hour with him I am simmering with suppressed frustration at his inability to understand basic concepts.
Then there’s the repetition.
I hate repeating myself.
I have ALWAYS hated repeating myself.
I had the misfortune to be born to parents who actually listened to me. They took me seriously. I never had to play Jacob Two-Two.
I remember distinctly an aunt coming to visit us, and constantly missing what I said to her the first time round, as if she automatically tuned out the voices of anyone under a certain age.
It drove me crazy.
And it still does.
When Owl doesn’t understand something, he’ll ask the same question over and over, hoping that he’ll understand the explanation the next time around.
I can’t handle it.
I remember back on Hallowe’en, he had just turned two, and I was trying to put up decorations.
“I’m decorating, honey.”
“I’m putting up these decorations.”
“Do you see this, in my hand? I’m putting it on the door. That’s what I’m doing.”
“Oh.” *pause* “Mommy…”
Cue my head exploding.
I had to tell him to sit on the chair and be quiet lest he be sent to time out, because I knew that if he asked me that question one more time, I would lose it on him.
That “what are you doing?” question is still one of his favourites – a way of starting a conversation, I think. I understand that this is what he is trying to do, but EVERY DAY when I drive him to school, he asks me what I’m doing.
OBVIOUSLY the answer is the same every day, so I’ll ask him back in the desperate hope that he would have learned the answer by now.
“Mommy…. what are you doing?”
“What am I doing?”
“I don’t know,” he says in honest-sounding bewilderment, as if I have suddenly embarked on a completely novel behaviour that has utterly perplexed him.
“I AM DRIVING YOU TO SCHOOL.”
It’s not his fault, bless his tiny little heart.
He’s a smart, curious kid, and some day I am going to LOVE talking to him about the xylem and phloem in plants, and the best way to decorate for Hallowe’en, and how one drives a car.
And I’m sure that he’s looking forward to that day, too, because he wants to know these things SO BADLY.
I think he finds his ignorance and poor language skills as aggravating as I do.
Sometimes he just doesn’t have the language to tell me what he wants to know, so I can’t give him an answer.
A lot of exchanges go like this:
“Mommy, what’s DIS?”
“That’s a log, honey. Someone cut the tree down.”
“Oh, no! Someone cutta tree DOWN?”
“Oh, no. No do dat! Someone make a MESS.”
So here I am thinking how cute and smart my kid is, and how much I love holding his tiny hand and explaining the world to him. And then…
“What’s DAT on de log, Mommy?”
“What’s what on the log, honey?”
“DAT on de log.”
“I don’t see anything on the log, sweetie. Can you point to it?”
He points in the general direction of the log. “DAT, dere on de log.”
“WHAT on the log, honey? Go touch it.”
“No. YOU touch it!”
“I can’t touch it because I don’t know what you’re talking about. You mean, this part, the bark?”
“No, DAT on the log!”
“You mean this bit of broken branch?”
“NO! DAT! DERE!” he continues to point in the general direction of the log.
“Go up to it and touch it, honey, so I know what you are talking about!”
“No, YOU do it!”
“I CAN’T TOUCH IT IF I DON’T KNOW WHERE IT IS, OWL.”
I had to lead him away, both of us nearly weeping with frustration.
His brain is so full of big thoughts that he can’t express, and my brain is so full of answers that he can’t understand.
I know that one day it will get better, and I’ll have so much fun talking to him about big things, like whether there is a Santa Claus, and what it was like growing up in the days of Laura Ingalls Wilder.
But right now, I’m stuck with conversations like these:
“Owl, honey, don’t lean on the chair like that, please.”
“Because the chair might fall over and you might get an owie.”
“Chair might fall?”
“Because if you tilt it, it will lose its balance and fall over.”
“Because things fall over when they get tipped too far over.”
“WHY, Mommy? Why fall?”
“Because things fall down if they aren’t held upright, don’t they? Don’t things fall?”
“Yeah. They do. Things fall.”
“Right. So please don’t lean on the chair… LIKE THAT, PLEASE DON’T LEAN LIKE THAT!”
“BECAUSE PHYSICS, HONEY, NOW PLEASE SIT DOWN ON THE CHAIR OR I AM GOING TO HAVE TO COUNT! 1… 2…”
He sits. We frown at each other. I take a deep breath.
“Thank you, baby. Okay, you wait there, I’m going to get your cereal now.”
“What’s cereal doing??”
“JUST WAIT WHILE I MAKE IT PLEASE.”
Sarah Warren said:
It’s late here and I’m too tired to read it all properly but just had to say that picture of Owl with… pants? A t shirt? I’m not sure, but whatever it is on his head, it’s really cute ❤
His shorts. Yup.
Oh, I hear you, and I LIKE toddlers. I have a two repetition limit before the answer is, “I told you, now you tell me, lovie.” Similarly, I say a whole lot of “why do you think _____ is _____? Can you imagine an answer?” when I can not. handle. more. questions. I find that around three or so they understand the concept of needing a Question Break for five minutes. I unabashedly explain that they have good questions and I need a little break from thinking hard about their questions to think my own thoughts. Best of luck!
Yes, we try to turn it around on him as much as possible but he recognizes the strategy. Twice today he has said “no SAY “why not”!”
That’s a good line. I must remember that!
I have the exact same frustration with having to repeat myself and answer stupid questions, when it comes to kids I just enjoy messing with them. Which is probably why I don’t have kids. I believe the last time Owl asked me what I was doing, my answer was ‘your face’ which got a ‘…oh’ and he started touching his face. Baffle him!
OH. MY. WORD. Tears are literally streaming down my face from laughing so much! Owl is priceless!! 🙂
I know it’s not much comfort now, but (believe me) you WILL miss this time when YOU are the answer to all his questions! You’ll also be amazed at how much he actually remembers what you tell him. I found out (when my son was around Owl’s age) that when he asked me the same question, he was actually testing me to see if the answer remained the same!
I made a mistake once … he asked me how the car’s engine worked and I made something up on the spot. A couple of days later he asked me again, and I made something else up. He responded with “but you said xyz last time!” Colour me mortified! I came clean and said that I didn’t REALLY know how it worked but we’d go to the library and get a book to find out (this was pre Internet!).
I never made that mistake again – if I didn’t really know something I’d say so and then we’d find out together with a little help from the friendly neighbourhood Librarian. 🙂
Now he is 20 years old and HE is the one who has to be REALLY patient with his “technologically challenged” mom! 🙂
Grace Goldragon said:
This reminds me of when I take the Boy out for walks, and every two steps he will pick up a pinecone and say, “what’s dis?” And I say, “that’s a pinecone” and he will say, “Ah, a pinecone.” and then he’ll pick up another pinecone and say, “and, what’s dis?” And I say, “also a pinecone.” Picks up another pinecone, “and, what’s DIS?” and I say, “also a pinecone. In fact, I’ll save us both some time and tell you that THEY ARE ALL PINECONES.” I do flip it back on him, “what do YOU think it is?” and he’ll say “A Pinecone!” but then recently he’s starting reflipping it back on to me, and will say, “What YOU fink it is?” and we go into a bit of a loop, asking each other what it is, when we both know perfectly well it’s always a fucking pinecone.
We have the EXACT SAME pine cone conversation.
Erin B said:
yup! Pinecone identification issues around here too… and to make it more confusing Little Girl sometimes gets the words confused for pinecone and acorn, then gets really frustrated that I suggest it might be the other one.
This comment reminds me of this scene from Borat.
“What is a this?”
“What is a this?
Oh, I know ALL about this – and it’s partly because of the extroversion, honestly. Very extroverted Louis does this, especially on walks. “What’s dat NOISE?” “What’s dat SMELL?” And my very favourite –
“What is dat car DOIN’?”
“Why is it DRIVING?”
“Because cars drive.”
“Because that’s what cars do”.
And then I say that my ears are tired of listening to the same question over and over again. I do, because every extroverted kid I’ve ever known does this, and it’s *not* just because they have lots of ideas and thoughts. Sometimes it’s just because they are afraid that if they’ve stopped talking, they’ll disappear. 😉
Yep, I know Owl just wants to make conversation most of the time and I haven’t been able to drive a more appropriate method into his head yet.
Although sometimes his head IS so full of big thoughts that he stammers like Jimmy Stewart, because his brain is going faster than his mouth: “wh wh wh wh wh wh wh wh WHY dat a bird??”
My almost 4 year old asks the oddest questions too…which can also be mega embarassing e.g ‘why is that boy in the girls toilet?’ (about a woman with short hair)
Oh, it sure can be exasperating! I think the repetition thing is because they are now in the stage of a) wanting to know if the answer is going to be consistent, and b) learning to categorize things into the same name even if there are slight variations.
The extrovert angle is very interesting! That sounds like a plausible reason, too.
I’m finding the six-year-old’s questions actually harder to answer these days than the toddler ones. I find that if I start with the simple route, there are always follow-up questions. Then he’ll ask what I think are BIG questions — such as “How did the baby get in your belly?” — and start to prepare in my head a long-winded, detailed reply, but as soon as I start off with the first part of my reply — which went something like “Well, it’s kind of like a seed growing into a plant…” and nothing into the sex part of it yet — he’s moved on and asking me about something totally unrelated. Always throws me for a loop!
LOL, yes, that’ll frustrate me too. “Siddown and listen to my explanation!”
It is sooo infuriating, I know. But you’ve captured it brilliantly – very funny! I agree with the suggestion to “baffle them” – particularly when you KNOW it’s just asking for the sake of asking / conversation and not actually any desire for an answer. Sometimes I repeat the question back in puzzled tones, as if I’ve forgotten the answer, e.g
Boy (3): What is a car?
Me: Hmm, what IS a car?
and that used to be enough to get him to answer it himself. Until it stopped working (because every technique stops working at some point and you need to find the next one).
These days sometimes I answer with the wrong answer and wait for him to point out I’m wrong:
Boy: What is a lion?
Me: Oh, it’s a big grey animal with a trunk (cue elephant noise)
and then I wait and look at him until he figures it out (which he does, because he knows the game now).
Sometimes I do the fast distraction into something else, e.g.
Boy (for umpteenth time): But why is it?
Me: Because it is. Oooooh, shall we sing a nursery rhyme? Jack and Jill la la la etc
But sometimes you just don’t have the patience for any technique. Sometimes it’s just infuriating.
For light relief, have you seen “Convos with my 2 year old” on YouTube, where a dad acts out real conversations he’s had with his daughter, but with another adult man playing the girl? Sounds creepy, but it’s not – it is very funny:
Yes! I’ve seen those and they’re very funny. Except I hate the cookie one because it showcases some truly terrible parenting.
Sassy Britches said:
Hi. I’m you. And Georgia is Owl. And OMG just STOP with the obvious questions!
I don’t tolerate stupid questions either. Yes, I am thrilled she wants to know ALL.THE.THINGS. but geez, I just can’t. I want to, I want to fill her brain with all kinds of goodness because she wants to fill her brain with the goodness. But like Owl, she already knows them and asks anyway. *head against wall, over and over again*
I am not alone!
No, you’re not alone! Even bright children are REALLY ANNOYING. Fortunately a lot of the annoying stuff is funny later.
Every time I’m driving my two and I have to slow down or stop, Frank has to ask why. “Why are we stopping, Mummy? Why aren’t we moving?” Because there is a red light, darling. Because the car in front has stopped. Because if I drive on, I will crash into that lorry you can see pulling across us. Because of the same reasons I told you the last fifty times. Aaargh! To do him credit, he can see less from the back than I can from the front. But it is incessant.
I’m glad that people’s responses here are generally reinforcing my sense, which is that *all* parents get question exhaustion. How you deal with it is personal to you and your child, but I think everybody (even the Best Parent Ever) gets there in the end. So the question is how to deal with it in a manner that doesn’t scar your child for life, and you’ve gotten some very good suggestions here.
Of course, as my non-parent, embarrassingly-Ravenclaw mind was reading the post, all I could think of was this link, on how children’s minds develop (or have innately — a little of each) the power to create metaphors. Of significant interest to me, and I hope you. Might even be of assistance? Here’s hoping:
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