5 Answers To Your Kid's "Why?"Joel Stein
I didn’t even think I wanted kids when Google was launched, yet the first thing I thought of using the search engine for was secretly answering my non-existent child’s incessant questions. Why do magnets stick together? Why, Gehngis, I just have to get something from my office and then I’ll answer your question. I’d seem brilliant, perfect, the kind of dad who could sire a Genghis.
But even with an iPhone, technology is no match for the speed of a two-year old’s “why”s. The questions come way too fast to Google my way out of. So, like every parent in history, I’ve had to develop mechanisms to stamp out Laszlo’s curiosity so I can go back to listening to NPR in the car.
1) Why is it windy? (Science)
The only people who understand weather are meteorologists and old women. So you’re going to have to make stuff up. In fact, there’s a shocking amount of basic science most of us don’t know. Why do tires make a noise? Why is it windy? Why do magnets attract? Why did I pass seventh grade science?
To all these questions, I use the same tactic on Laszlo that my dad uses on me even when I don’t ask about that Civil War book he’s reading: I bore him.
I start out with something vaguely related that has a small chance of being right: The earth and the atmosphere are moving at different speeds. Tires cause friction which releases energy as sound. If Laszlo asks a follow-up science question, I always talk about molecules. Molecules shut anyone up.
2) What’s that guy singing about? (Arts)
This comes up every single time Laszlo hears a song being played anywhere. The answer is: He’s singing about how he loves a girl and hopes she loves him too. It’s what the Beatles are singing about, it’s what the Muppets are singing about, and it’s even what Rush is singing about. I feel bad about doing it to Rufus Wainwright songs, but I think Rufus would do the same thing if he were at Whole Foods just trying to get some yogurt.
3) Why is he doing that? (Ethics)
Books and movies have complicated character motivations that confuse my two-year old. Luckily there are only two things anyone is doing at anytime: Either sharing and helping or not sharing and not helping.
Why does the boy in Rush’s Tom Sawyer love that girl? Because she helps and she shares. Why does that guy want to capture Kermit the Frog? Because that guy is not a good sharer and helper.
I can even boil down Shakespeare plays this way. Othello was a good helper and sharer but then he became friends with Iago, who was not a good helper or sharer, and Othello stopped sharing and helping and killed his wife and then realized what a bad helper and sharer he had become so he killed himself. Laszlo makes me tell that one over and over before he goes to sleep.
4) Why do I have to? (Health)
Why does he have to go to bed? Why does he have to brush his teeth? Why does he have to get his diaper changed? Why does he have to eat vegetables? Because not doing it will cause permanent physical damage: Sickness, pimples, even death. On any day, I’m scarier than a Dr. Oz episode. I heard my lovely wife Cassandra actually tell Laszlo that if he didn’t brush before bed, “Your teeth will rot and fall out of your mouth.” It was less like a going-to-bed routine than a pitch for Saw VIII.
5) What’s that called? (Etymology)
At some point, Laszlo realized that everything and everyone has a name, and that it’s his job to learn every one of them. Every time we pass a guy walking down the street, it’s “What’s that guy’s name?” It’s like driving around town with Carl Linnaeaus. There are muppets in the background of scenes that not even Jim Henson named, but Laszlo needs to know because there’s no way he’s calling him a “whatnot” if he bumps into the guy at a party.
I learned that you can’t just say, “I don’t know.” Because Laszlo will either not believe it, or give me a look that says, “This guy lives two blocks away. You’ve made no effort to get to know him? That’s the kind of person you are? I’m the kid with the outcast parents?”
So I’ve learned to flip the question: “What do you think he’s named?” Laszlo will usually answer, “I don’t know.” Which somehow allows me to say, “I don’t know either.” Sometimes, though, Laszlo tells me the guy is named “Gonzo.” If for some reason we run into that guy together, I will call him that.
Laszlo is even better at skirting questions than I am. Whenever I ask Laszlo “Why?” he responds, “It’s good.”
“Why are you hitting me?”
“Why are you throwing all your clothes in the garbage?”
And the weird thing is: I’m satisfied with that answer.