One of the things those “What to Expect” books don’t adequately prepare you for is just how many times you need to know the correct answer as a parent. (Do you hear that, all you teens who want to have a baby?!?! Get an education before you get “parent” added to your resume. It will help!) Not that I would have chosen to not parent based on it, but still…it can drive a person a bit cuckoo-for-cocoa-puffs sometimes. We all joke about the “why is the sky blue” type of questions that toddlers and preschoolers like to pepper their parents with, but really, those are the tame ones. You not only need to know the answers, but they need to be the correct answers. (Note, if you haven’t thought about how you’re going to explain sex and all that jazz, you might go buy a book or something. Because there is just slightly more than a split second between counting the number of your child’s bowel movements per day and conversations that have lasting impact – let me tell you.)
Parenting offers a person lots of opportunities to get it wrong, and only a few chances to get it right. You have to just pray that you get it right on the really important stuff.
Lately, all 3 of my children have been grilling me over the lyrics of songs. I know this is a preamble to some more important question-and-answer mission coming to a conversation near me. It is only a matter of time.
Back to the songs. We’ll be heading off on yet another errand and some catchy little jingle comes on the radio. One will ask innocently enough, “Mom, what’s this song about?”
Now, before you brush off my conundrum, try it. Pick some random song and immediately announce what the song is about. Correctly. It is more of a challenge than you might appreciate. “Um, Mom. I don’t think this song is really about how youth need to pay more attention to their parents and never, ever, ever be tempted to cut their sibling’s hair.” Okay so my analytical skills weren’t so good on that one, I admit it.
You know they are testing you – if you don’t know the answers to something easy, how are you going to manage the hard stuff?
Take, for example, this comment I heard just this afternoon on our way home from the grocery store – after I had deciphered K.T. Tunstill’s “Big Black Cherry Tree” for my 3 year old.
“Mama, will you pleeeeaaaaasssseee tell me how they make Matchbox cars?”
He’s a firecracker this one, so there is no fudging on the details. And it doesn’t pay to be even a bit wrong around him. “You said yesterday that they first melted the metal and then the plastic. Today you said plastic first. Which is it?”
Like I have any freaking idea what order the mass production of toy cars follows. But an “I don’t know” goes over less well than the Lead Zepplin at our house. So you’d better be prepared to not only craft a plausible story, but remember it. Because he sure will.
When I was pregnant with my oldest son, I would sit with my homeroom kids in the bleachers during pep-fests and silently pray that my unborn child was “normal.” (If you’ve ever been surrounded by 2800 screaming high schoolers, you might be inclined to pray for normalcy too.) But, I had to add the kicker, “And smart too, please.” And I’m here to tell you, that is a dangerous thing, because God help you, when you have a smart kid, you get to raise a smart kid.
Just the other night, the 3 year old pipes up at dinner, “Mom, what’s hypothetical mean?”
To which his brother yells, “An educated guess!”
So, you can imagine the fear that strikes my heart when one of my kids wants to know what happens after someone dies. Or why some kids get picked on and others never seem to. Or why some moms and dads don’t love each other anymore.
The world we live in today is speeding everything up -we live at nearly mach speed without really noticing what is passing by our proverbial windows. Perhaps that side-effect of the technological breakthroughs is but a small price to pay for the benefits we have received. But our children are speeding through their childhoods faster than this mom is able to come up with good answers. And that makes me more than a bit nervous because sometimes I don’t have a good answer, let alone the correct answer. And sometimes, there is just no way to come up with an educated guess that makes sense out of our world.