The 7 Hardest-to-Answer Questions My Kids Have Ever Asked… And 2 Surprisingly Easy Ones

curious boy

 Joanna Schroeder thought she was prepared for the questions her boys might ask… Turns out she was wrong.

Kids ask a ton of questions, we all know that. It usually starts with a simply, with question like, “What is air made of?” and ends an hour later with one of us on the verge of screaming, “I DON’T KNOW WHY TURTLES DON’T WEAR HATS OR WHAT WOULD HAPPEN IF A SHARK COULD TALK!”

But there are times when their questions tap into some of the most profound unknowns in human existence, and we’re forced to face the reality that there is so much in our lives that we simply don’t understand… or at least can’t really explain.

Here are 7 notable questions our kids have asked that have really stumped us.

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1. Why do people die?

Yeah, you can explain the biology. The body grows old and tired, it may get a disease or it may have been hurt, like in an accident. For whatever reason, it can’t sustain life any more. There’s also the argument that there isn’t enough room on the planet for all of the people to live forever, because new babies have to enter the world.

But why?

If you’ve recently lost someone, especially someone young, it’s the hardest question you’ll ever face. The reality is, we don’t know. I don’t know why one set of humans can’t populate the earth forever. I don’t know why a baby gets sick and dies. If you believe in God, I don’t know why God would let that happen. I don’t know why cancer takes people’s lives too early. Honestly, I do not.

And kids like definite answers. They like “no” and “yes” and facts and figures. And if you’re being honest, there really aren’t any definite answers. There’s only the hope that someday we’ll understand.

 

2. Why did the man singing that song say, “f**cking like gorillas”?

Imagine you’re visiting your parents, who are actual Senior Citizens, and you borrow your mother’s car. Imagine you turn on the car and hear a fun little pop/R&B song with a catchy chorus. Imagine you get distracted talking with your spouse and you aren’t really paying attention to the CD that is in your parents’ stereo.

Then imagine your 5 year-old saying, “Why did that man just say, ‘f**king like gorillas?’”

You’ll probably press EJECT fifty times and examine this CD your mom has in her disc drive (your mom, who loves Bette Midler and Olivia Newton John).

Bruno Mars, you’ve heard of him. You saw him on Letterman. Or was it Leno? You can’t remember. Some place where uncool parents hear bands they’ve never heard of.

You’ll probably pick up your iPhone and Google “Bruno Mars Gorilla” and read the lyrics.

Then you’ll laugh hysterically at the absurdity of it all. But you’ll still have to explain it to your kids…

 

3. Is Stax in heaven?

Our oldest dog, a goofy labrador, died when the kids were pretty small—around 3 and 5 years old.

We told them that Dr. Dean came over to help Daddy make sure Stax wasn’t in pain, and then Marcelino and Daddy buried Stax’s body in the back yard, and planted a tree in the burial spot.

“Can he breathe under there?” Izz was afraid. I think he was imagining being buried alive, which is exactly what I was thinking about at my great aunt’s funeral when I was the same age.

“No, Honey, Stax isn’t breathing anymore. He can’t feel anything or see anything. He’s not scared or feeling any pain. That body is just like a rock or dirt now. It doesn’t have life.”

“Is Stax in heaven?” they wondered.

We do not subscribe to a specific religion in our house, but we have always believed in leaving room for our kids to find their own paths to God—or not. Our answers to God-related questions have always started with, “Many people believe…” We figure whatever they grow up believing, as long as it doesn’t harm others, will be fine with us. And above all, we don’t want them thinking that any other people’s beliefs are wrong.

So how do you explain heaven to a little boy? I really don’t know.

If I’m being honest, my heart is committed to the fluffy-clouds, no-pain, no-sadness version of the afterlife. I imagine my Grandma Lu opening her arms to the soul of my 23 year-old nephew, who passed away three years ago. I imagine them both free of any sort of pain.

I think of my husband’s mother meeting up with her sister and mother somewhere, laughing and happy again. I think of a heaven where my cousin’s beautiful weeks-old daughter is cradled by her grandpa Russ, who had passed away just before the baby died suddenly. I think of her being adored by her great-grandma Betty, who loved babies more than just about anything else.

Stax

Stax

I think of this heaven when I hear news like the death of Martin Richard in the Boston bombings, of all the children in Newtown, of the thousands of children who have died during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Of the innocents who are massacred in Syria, and people who die of malnutrition or violence everywhere. I think of them in heaven where I imagine things are fair. Where they have no fear.

And honestly, I think of a heaven where Stax is running in the grass and swimming in lakes and chasing tennis balls without having to limp on his arthritic joints.

And so I say, “Yes. I think so.”

 

4. Why do you have two dads?

I always reply, “Because I’m lucky.”

No, I don’t have gay dads, I have a dad and a stepdad, both of whom I love without limits and who love me back the same way. Gramps and Pop Pop are equally huge parts of my sons’ lives, and offer different skills and adventures to their grandkids.

But my kids know that babies come from a sperm and an egg, so they know that at some point Mimi and Gramps were together.

And that’s where it gets hard. How do you tell your kid that when you were a very small child, your dad moved to a different house and you didn’t see him every day?

How do you do this without introducing the fear that their own family structure might someday crumble?

I explained that my mom and dad were unhappy together, that they didn’t get along or like being together, and so our whole house was sad. When they had different houses, we were able to have fun with Mom and Dad separately, and it was more peaceful.

As hard as I tried, I think it still affected them. I know that the cruelties of life are unavoidable, but it seems like their emotional antennae are now tuned to Ivan’s and my moods, waiting for us to be unhappy, fearful that we will no longer be the tightly-bonded unit they’ve always known. We try to reassure them that we are fine, but I know it’s tough to go from blissful ignorance to the reality that love sometimes ends.

 

5. Why did someone kill Dr. King?

How do you explain to privileged white children who have never even heard the word “race”, that there are horrible people in the world who believe that the color of your skin dictates who you are and how much value you have?

It’s hard, but you have to do it. You have to do it because it’s a reality for half their classmates in elementary school, a reality that they will be facing the rest of their lives. You have to, because you need to be the one who teaches your kid about race so you can be sure to tell them that all people are created equal and deserve equal respect. That every group of people—be it a race, a nationality, a body type, a religion, a gender, an ethnicity, sexual orientation, ability or disability—has amazing people, average people, and bad people.

And you have to tell them that there were people in the 1960s who believed Dr. King’s bravery was dangerous, and so they killed him. Because they were bad and they were afraid of the truth, the truth that every single person on this earth deserves the same chance to be happy and fulfill their dreams. And you have to explain that there are still people in the world who believe the way the people who wanted to hurt Dr. King did.

And you can explain that things are getting better, though too slowly. You can explain that it’s their job as good people to do the opposite of those people, to give everyone the same chance and not decide who people are based upon their race (or nationality, body type, religion, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, ability or disabilty).

And it’s going to be sad for them, and scary. But it’s reality. As Mr. Rogers says, “focus on the helpers” and teach them about the brave people who are making the world better. About Dr. King and Nelson Mandela and Rosa Parks and everyone else who fought for Civil Rights, like Bobby Kennedy. Show them the heroes so they know how to be one.

 

6. What does “when” mean? 

Also included here are “if” “where” “while” “then” and “there” and every other subordinating conjunction or preposition.

It should be simple, but just try defining the word “when”. Seriously. Try it now.

Think nobody would ever ask you to define the words I’ve listed above? You obviously don’t have children.

 

6. Why is Bella’s dad in Afghanistan?

First, you have to explain why Osama Bin Laden was a bad man and why he wanted to hurt other people. Do this without making it seem like this is what Islam teaches, and without making it seem like their friends who are Arab-American are in any way associated with these bad people.

Then explain that the war isn’t actually against the Afghani people.

The next question might be, “Why couldn’t another person go, someone who isn’t a father?” And then try not to feel terrible as you explain that there aren’t enough people who don’t have little kids to go, and that they need as many people as they can get.

Get ready, because that’s when he will ask, “Why is Bella’s dad still there even though Bin Laden is dead?”

Tell him it’s a good question, and that ultimately we support Bella’s dad no matter what.

 

7. Mom, why do you shave your legs and Dad doesn’t?

My 5 year-old walked into the bathroom on the first day really hot day of summer, where I was sitting on the edge of the bathtub in a pair of shorts, shaving my legs. He looked at my legs, at the razor, and raised an eyebrow.

What are you doing?”

“I’m shaving my legs.”

Blank stare.

“I’m taking off the hairs.”

“Dad doesn’t do that.”

“That’s true.”

“So why are you doing it? That razor is sharp.” (He’s been told 100 times in the shower not to touch it.)

“Some people think it looks better.”

“Should I do it?”

“No, your legs are perfect the way they are.”

“But yours aren’t?”

 

Touché.

 

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And now for the questions that were surprisingly easy to answer.

 

Screen Shot 2013-07-19 at 7.30.40 PM1. Where do babies come from?

I don’t know how you learned about conception, but I learned about it in 4th grade when my mom put the book Where Did I Come From? on my bed and a week later asked if I’d gotten a book and if I had any questions.

I said no.

So I already knew how I was not going to be teaching my kids about sex. I followed Dr. Laura Berman’s advice and started out simply, with science. “Dad’s sperm contained a part of your genetic code, and so did Mom’s. When they came together, a whole new person (you) were formed. Then you grew in my womb, which is a cozy spot in mommies for babies to grow until they’re ready to be born.”

Over time the kids asked again, each time wanting more details and specifics.

“But Mom, how does the sperm get inside the womb to the egg?” My oldest finally asked.

So I explained about the sperm coming out of a man’s penis and how he puts the penis into the woman’s vagina so the sperm can swim up to the egg. Because they’re so young, I didn’t get into lust, or love, or humping or oral sex or orgasms or anything else. Just the facts, ma’am (or sir).

Again, my kids were unfazed and so was I. My eldest laughed a little and said, “Really? That seems weird.”

I smiled.

Then they just started talking about something else. Probably Legos or farts or Despicable Me.

 

2. Why does Ellie have two dads and no mom?

Despite all the creepy  propaganda during the Proposition 8 campaign telling parents that teaching a child about same-sex couples will ruin their lives, explaining two-dad or two-mom families to kids was one of the easiest conversations I’ve ever had with my kids.

When he was 4 years old, my eldest got into the car and wondered where Ellie’s mom was, and why she has two dads.

“You know already that Dad and I fell in love and decided to make a family, right? Well, Ellie’s two dads met each other, fell in love, and decided to make a family just like us.”

“Oh. Cool,” is what he said.

Far from traumatized.

Since then, especially after learning where babies come from, the questions have become more specific. They wonder whose sperm and whose egg were used. They wonder who was the lady who pushed Ellie out.

I tell them that I don’t know. There was definitely a lady who grew Ellie in her womb and pushed her out, but we don’t know who she is, and it doesn’t matter. Ellie, her dads, and her brothers are a family just like us and they don’t need anything more.

And that’s that.

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What I’ve learned in my near-decade of being a parent of two curious, hilarious little boys is that all the things I thought were going to be tough about raising kids were actually pretty simple. It seems to be the sneak-attack questions and situations that really throw me for a loop. The experiences I never thought they’d have, the technology I never realized they’d have access too, the very adult situations they’ve had to face.

But I have to believe that sometimes, the most honest answer you can give a child is simply, “I don’t know. I wish I did.”

Lead photo: Flickr/Davide Comelli

 

 

Also by Joanna Schroeder: 

15 Reasons It’s Better to Be a Kid Than a Grown-Up

An Open Letter to My Son, Who Yesterday Was Called a Nerd

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Premium Membership, The Good Men Project

About Joanna Schroeder

Joanna Schroeder is the type of working mom who opens her car door and junk spills out all over the ground. She serves as Executive Editor of The Good Men Project and is a freelance writer whose work has appeared on sites like xoJane, hlntv.com, and The Huffington Post. Joanna loves playing with her sons, skateboarding with her husband, and hanging out with friends. Her dream is to someday finish her almost-done novel and get some sleep. Follow her shenanigans on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Kate Bartolotta says:

    When my five-year-old asked me what fellatio was, that was one of the toughest questions. As it turned out, he was asking about “Filet O’ Fish” or “fellatio fish” as he called it, since he had not eaten at McDonald’s and had no frame of reference for it.

    Great article, Joanna!

  2. Great piece, Joanna. One of my former employees recently posted on Facebook that on vacation in the UK his three young sons had discovered the rules of European television were different. That changed the dinner conversation a bit. My most conflicted memory on this thread was when Ashley was around six years old and was watching the news with us, she asked, “What did President Clinton do with that cigar?” I think that may have been the only instance where our household full honesty policy had to be deferred.

    • Joanna Schroeder says:

      Yes, I did not explain what “f**king like gorillas” actually meant. I said that he was using a that phrase to be shocking. Luckily they didn’t ask “What is that?” but “Why did he say that” so I felt okay not fully explaining.

  3. So true. Just last night we were driving home from minor league baseball game and my daughter was explaining how girls can play baseball and softball and my son was arguing of course so I tell the Jackie Robinson story, for the next 30 minutes they talked gender god time race..the highlight was this exchange: girl “but go created everything” boy “no not freedom. Martin Luther king invented freedom…but he probably got the idea from god.” Beat. Girl: “god created butt cracks.” And on and on. My mom died when I was 21 and I’ve always been open about it with the kids. The more we entrust them to be able to handle the facts of life, the less guarded we are in answering their questions, the conversations can be mind blowing. Love this list. Explaining sexy has proven far more difficult than any other topic.

  4. Great post!
    I have a friend with two young sons who have basically adopted me as their uncle/jungle gym. They ask me all kinds of questions a lot because their parents are separated and their mother is a lesbian, so when I come over I get a lot of the “man” questions.
    One of the most interesting conversations was when I told the older boy that I used to be a girl. Surprisingly he was totally unfazed after a couple initial questions about why I was a girl and how things worked, he finished his questions with, “Can we watch Dr. Who now?”
    Kids are amazing and I will definitely refer back to this article when I face these questions from the boys and in the future my own kids.

    Stay excellent,
    Anthony

  5. Loved this!

    Luckily for me there are kid’s books and youtube videos on MLK and complicated stuff like that…! And now my son is almost 13 yo and reading “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” and HE had to explain to ME what a “trireme” is….

    Out of the mouths of babes! TG for Google!

  6. Just wonderful Joanna. I have to say, we are all wondering how it would be to grow up amidst conversations like this instead of conversations that weren’t conversations at all. “They did the best they could?” You’re doing better, madam. So much better.

  7. I did teaching biological sex from basically ever with my older two. Adding as they grew up, my older son is now 14.He understands the puberty side (normal, meant to be weird, go with it), the appeal of sexual relationships (now he’s older) and why people do it in the first place – and that wanting to is going to get more and more normal. Also he knows the consequences.

    My main goal was to get the facts in before the hormones beat me to it! I hope it’s working. I know he’s very pragmatic about adolescence, accepting of the changes and experience even when its horrible. We discussed things like AIDS, HIV, condoms etc around age 12. So ‘preventing pregnancy’ wasn’t the only point and the girl on the pill wasn’t a good enough reason not to use one.

    My 12yo daughter used to watch those baby shows on TLC with me, from age 2. She knows where babies come from – they both do – and she knows that sometimes they are cut out too (my 3 were). As a seven year old she used to talk about how she wasn’t sure which option to choose when she got old and had babies – naturally hurts more in the moment, caesar hurts more after (this part of fact we taught as well).

    Add to this money – we explain financial constraints – and costs of living as a family, so they know it doesn’t necessarily come easy to pay for.

    My older kids understand their feelings are normal, out of proportion and going to be all over the place for the next little while.

    I have an added weapon in a 2yo brother, who shows him the daily reality of actually having a baby. Real-life version of those ‘look after mechanical baby’ classes I see in American movies, I guess. Hopefully it imprints in my 12yo daughter too.

    My son knows he was the most amazing accidental pregnancy (not mistake – accident/unplanned but the best accident we’ve ever had). It’s vital to explain the difference to them between mistake and accident, by the way – I was always told I was born due to a mistake, and that hurts no matter how much my parents want me now. My son has been told he is the unplanned saver of our lives, considering where his father and I were headed at the time – something to be proud of, I hope. He’s glad we had it – but also judges my poor choices LOL. I’d rather him do that, though.

    Anyway making it a normal part of life, and something they learn in stages like anything else has helped. They are grounded about it, they still get embarrassed when we talk about it (now the hormones are here) but they got the details, the basics, before it was too embarrassing for them to pay attention to!

    As for the other ones – on same sex marriage, the same thing. They know, men fall in love with women. Men fall for men, women fall for women, it’s just how it is. My daughter learnt this at about age 3, and spent about a year telling me off for not giving her two mothers, because ‘that would be good, we could all be girls, she’d like it like that’. She went through a stage of finding it ‘weird’ a few years back and we talked our way through it – explaining weird ‘for her’ was not weird in life. It’s about what each person wants, if she doesn’t want a female partner then she doesn’t have to have one – and that’s cool, the next person has the same freedom of choice. My son is ambivalent.

    I think with a lot of these big issues ‘ambivalence’ about the ideas themselves is a good thing. It means no judgment – whatever. It is what it is. That isn’t always a bad thing.

    Death is harder. My son accepts the biological concept because he’s a straight up and down scientist at heart. And he’s fine with that. My daughter less so, but that’s an existential experience for her to go through. She is free to find whatever feels like it fits her most comfortably. Explaining the why is quite hard. You can explain the mechanics but like most people the concept of the ‘inside me’ – consciousness, where does that go – and why does it have to – that’s a hard one.

  8. I recently read a review of a motel that frequent and readers were sternly warned that the motel was next door to a strip club & they shouldn’t stay at this very nice motel because of its location and how damaging it could be to their kids. My kids are grown now, but years ago we were in the car and happened to stop at a light in front of a strip club. My kids, aged ~8 & 6 asked me what kind of club it was. I thought for a minute and told them, “some people like to watch other people take off their clothes, and that’s what they do in that club.” Silence for a minute, and then, “Can we stop and get a snack?” Damaging? It all depends on how the parent handles it.

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