Who? What? Where? When? As a news reporter, these are questions I'm used to asking. But as the mother of a very curious 2-year-old, the tables have turned and now I'm the one doing the
answering. All. Day. Long.
Noah started talking early, and by 9 months he already had dozens of words. "Light!" "Mama!" "Ball!" he'd point out excitedly, as we applauded and cheered the identification of every object. Then his first birthday rolled around and he started putting words together. "Hat off!" he'd tell me as I struggled to keep the UV rays away. "More grapes!" he'd say after wolfing down an entire bowl. How cute (and yet slightly bossy) I thought, as he commanded his way through the day.
With the passing months his phrases grew more complex, as he searched for meaning in those blocks of words, taking pronouns, adjectives verbs out for test drives. "Where is them?" he'd ask when his beloved toy trains were out of sight. "What name is that doggie name?" he wondered about the puppy we encountered on our walk. But hands down, his favorite question is just three words long, uttered at least 100 times per day. "What's that, Mama?"
At first the answers came easy. What's that you ask (over and over and over)? "That's a bumblebee, my love." Or, "That's a garbage truck." Bring on the questions, I thought, donning my Super Mom cape. I have all the answers!
Not so fast, caped crusader. The cuteness of the constant questioning soon began to wear on my nerves. Before long our days and nights rivaled an episode of Jeopardy; everything was phrased in the form of a question. The grocery store (a place that is daunting enough with a 2-year-old and an infant in tow) was now a place that held as many questions as brands of orange juice.
"What's that, Mama?"
"That's a can of peaches, my love."
"Can I have that pea-sis?"
And then there is our nightly story time, which slowly morphed into something more closely resembling a press conference.
"Corduroy is a bear who lived in the..."
"What's that Mama???" he interrupted, pointing to a stuffed giraffe on page one.
"That's a giraffe, my love. Ahem. Corduroy is a bear who lived in the toy..."
"What's he doing, Mama?"
"Umm... he's just sitting. Now then: Corduroy is a bear who lived in the toy department...."
"But what's that, Mama? What's that on the giraffe arm?"
"That's a spot, my love. Giraffes have spots."
"Do I have a spot, Mama?"
"No, you don't have spots. Corduroy is a bear who lived in the toy department of...."
"Can I have spots too, Mama?"
It's moments like that when I'm torn between laughter and tears. While it's hard to begrudge a child's growing curiosity about the world, I have to admit there's a side of me that screams "Why can't we just READ this *&^% book? There's laundry to do, there's a baby who needs to be fed, and a mom who's desperate for some down time!" I'm well aware that under that sweet head of inexplicably straight, sandy blond hair (rather odd for a child who is after all 1/2 Egyptian) lurks a sponge of a brain, with a scream of its own- one that cries out "Feed me!" But I couldn't help but wonder, is there something wrong with my child? He can't seem to pay attention to ANYTHING!"
Then yesterday it hit me. We were walking to the park, another task that used to be straight-forward back in the day when Noah was content to just sit in his stroller and ride. Now, it's about as direct as roller coaster, and takes roughly as long as the wait for Space Mountain on a summer Saturday.
"What's that, Mama?" he said, pointing to few blades of grass scattered on the curb by a neighbor's lawnmower. But before I could even answer, he pointed skyward and gasped with delight, "Look, Mama- a hey-yo-copter! Just like Harold the Hey-yo-copter on Thomas! And just like an airplane!"
That's when I got it: it's not that he can't pay attention to anything, it's that he's paying attention to EVERYTHING. Every rock, every tree, every blade of grass, every ant on the ground. To a toddler, there are great discoveries everywhere they look, connections to make and yes, questions to ask about every chapter of daily life, especially the pages we as adults no longer bother to turn.
So I sucked up my sarcasm, tucked my frustrations away and did my best to answer his questions.
"What's that, Mama?" he queried, pointing to the remains of a woodland creature's lunch.
"Those are acorns, my love. They're for the squirrels to eat."
That's when he looked up at me with those sweet blue eyes and asked, "Why, Mama?"