I have been waiting for the “why” phase for a while. One of The Boy’s many best friends was plaguing his mother for reasons even before he was three, but all the Boy wanted to know was: “What’s that, Mummy?” and “What are you doing, Daddy?” He has been more interested in defining, labelling and quantifying. This shouldn’t surprise me really, given his focus on numbers and shapes. He likes to know what things are and where they’re at. But he doesn’t ask me why.
“Does he just not have a natural investigative instinct?” I worry sometimes, child of two university lecturers. “Does he not want to do research?”
We are at said university lecturers’ house in the Netherlands this week. The kids have been over the moon to see their beloved grandparents again and play with the special toys that they only see at their house. The Boy is spending most of his time with the foam numbers, making hopscotch and hiding them for Opa and Oma to find, and the Girl is playing with the doll that was my own constant companion from age 5. I have been enjoying some time off from housework and indulging my tendency towards nostalgia with old photo albums. Generally, time has moved more slowly and nothing has seemed as frantic or urgent as it often does in daily life at home.
Yesterday we walked through the park where I used to play as a child. I was actually in a bit of a hurry to get to the town hall to take care of some ex-pat business, but the Boy wanted to stop at the bridge to see the ducks. I decided it wouldn’t really matter if we were a bit later, and was excited that he was showing an interest in nature, broadening his horizons. The Girl was asleep in the buggy, so it was just him and me and the birds.
“Hello ducks! Mummy, I want them to come closer!”
He was sad we didn’t have any bread for them. Then he spotted a different kind of bird by the water’s edge, standing stock still, its long beak pointing down at the canal.
“Mummy!” he asked breathlessly. “What’s that bird?”
What – not why.
“It’s a heron,” I explained.
The Boy studied the heron for a while. The bird did not move a muscle.
He asked me very seriously: “Is he made of glass?”
“No, it’s a real bird. He is standing very still because he is waiting to catch a little fish and he doesn’t want the fish to see him.”
The Boy was fascinated and refused to carry on until the heron had caught something. I was a little worried we might be a while, but it wasn’t long before the beak moved slowly closer and closer to the water, before snatching an invisible prey. Then the bird took off to find a new perch.
We moved on and soon we got to a large cage full of birds that has been there ever since I can remember, although the inhabitants change fairly frequently. At the moment there is a little family of pheasant-type birds living in the centre enclosure. (I myself know very little of birds, please feel free to correct me…)
The Boy was enchanted by the large, colourful bird. His question: “That’s a lovely bird, Mummy. What’s his name?”
“I don’t know.”
“Can we call it Bernard?”
I supposed that was as good as anything, and for the next ten minutes, the Boy chatted to and about Bernard. “Look, Bernard has a baby, Mummy. I’ll call it “chicken”. Hello Chicken!”
We had to leave Bernard and carry on, and the Boy spotted lily pads on the canal. He expressed a desire to go and jump on them. “No!” I cautioned, “I know frogs in cartoons jump on lily pads, but you are much too heavy.”
The Boy’s spirits could not be quenched. “When we be 8, we turn into frogs, and jump on lily pads!”
I didn’t contradict him. He’ll find out in time.
“Can we go back to Nidiland now?”
“We are in the Netherlands,” I sighed. It was the Spain issue all over again. “Do you mean to Opa and Oma’s house?”
Yes, that was what he meant.
The answer was no, and as he trudged dejectedly along with me towards the rather boring destination, I reflected on his wonderful brain.
He is not asking why. He is coming up with his own ideas on how reality works. A bird doesn’t move for a while? He comes up with his own hypothesis: perhaps it is made of glass. Mummy doesn’t know an animal’s name? Well, maybe that is because it doesn’t have one yet and the whole thing is still wide open for his own suggestions. He can’t jump on lily pads? Well, one day he might turn into a frog and then he’ll be able to.
He is, I thought proudly, becoming a free thinking, independent philosopher. Why would he want to ask other people for the reasons and the explanations? He is plenty clever enough to come up with his own.
Then, while I was contemplating all this, he asked me a why-question after all. One that I suddenly realised he asks a lot.
“Why are you smiling Mummy?”
He uses ‘Why’ sparingly, asking me about the only subject I am truly an expert on: myself. He uses it to find out what the matter is with Mummy. To work out what makes Mummy tick.
Have you discovered your children are future philosophers or Nobel peace prize winners this week? Have they staggered you with their knowledge, their effort or their sporting prowess? Have you yourself done something amazing this week? Come and link up with Loud ‘n Proud! Just click on the link below, it will take you to a separate page.
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