Saturday, 24 July 2010

Why oh why oh why?

Daddy, why does water wash things away?
Because it's wet...
But why does wet wash things away?

The 'why' stage. All parents are warned about it, none are quite ready for the staggering extent of it - or scientifically knowledgeable enough to answer most of the questions. Whenever Little C runs out of things to say, you can bet a very basic question about the world and how it works will be winging your way. And the questions are much more basic than you expect. They are not of the "why are boys different to girls?" variety (yet), but are more along the lines of why cuts hurt, why motorbikes make a noise or why babies can't talk. All of these have been fielded over the last couple of weeks with considerable ineptitude. And she's a bit of a Paxman. A simple answer that babies cannot talk because they haven't learned yet gets short shrift. "But why?" is the most common supplementary, repeated until I feel like Michael Howard (and only slightly less mad).

There is a fascination to watching Little C find out about the world, her thirst to understand how it all works. It goes beyond physical things too. A few weeks ago, she reacted very badly when a little friend came down the slide in a park before her for the first time in several attempts. "I wanted to win," she sulked, and could not even begin to understand that the other little girl might have too. The same phrase was repeated ad infinitum when she lost a round of her 'shopping list game' which we play several times a day- the aim being to collect all the items on your list first. "I wanted to win,"she said again and again, until I told her to give it a rest. Then I was informed by her Mum that the resemblance to me after a football match was uncanny. (It was a bad season last year.)

Losing with grace is anathema to a toddler. They simply do not have the empathy to recognise that other people wanting the same thing as them - i.e to win - is remotely valid. "But I wanted to win" - that is a clinching argument as far as Little C is concerned. We have also had tears over games of 'Pairs' when one of us has made the unfortunate mistake of picking up her favoured cards. "But I wanted Pedro Pony!" she wails, as the game ends in bitter acrimony. The tantrum is followed by an attempt at reason: "When someone wants a card, it's not nice for you to pick it up." Explaining you did so in ignorance ends the emerging age of reason. "It's. Not. FAIR!"

It would be harsh to suggest that she doesn't learn from any of this. She does. My thoughtful attempts to teach her that everyone has a degree of competitive spirit through her cuddly toy dog Henry were instructive. His constant boasts that he was going to win made her laugh and his constant failure to do so elicited increasing sympathy. Then he won two games in a row and has since been sensationally banned from the shopping list game, amid rather dubious accusations of cheating.

Every day, she learns something new and every day, she asks twenty or thirty more questions. I feel I should be spending my life on Google finding out answers to the many very simple things I now realise I have never known, but even my rare full, scientific answers get another round of "whys". As fascinating as her quest to understand everything is, it's also bloody exhausting.


  1. The 'why?' phrase in our house was pretty short lived once I began to answer any and all such questions with my own question: 'why not?'.

    I am a terrible parent.

  2. i love the "why?" stage! it's like a never ending game where you come up with even more fantastically, unbelieveable answers. unfortunately, once they become teenagers, the questions recede and they have all the bloody answers!
    nice post. x

  3. Bee - that is a very tempting approach, I may see how it plays!

    Cat Lady - I guess that is true - we won't be the font of all knowledge for very long - sooner or later she will realise that we're mere mortals, then it's downhill all the way...!