When I was in elementary school our church was growing, and we started construction of a larger building. Construction is terrific fodder for kids’ questions, but it seems many men (as most of the workers/volunteers were) have a limited capacity for questions.
I remember asking (or beginning to ask) something of a pair of men, when one asked me, “Amy, can you tell me why children ask so many questions?”
I was fully aware of how he was “playing” me for his friend (you probably have seen or have yourself played a child for the entertainment of another adult), but– here was my nature manifesting at that young age– I took the question literally and deliberated how to answer.
I was somehow aware that whatever I said, they would probably turn it back on me, and I knew I would feel horribly self-conscious the next question I asked, but finally answered anyway; and honestly, despite the flack I guessed I’d get.
“Some questions kids ask because they really want to know, and some they ask because they don’t want to think for themselves.”
I knew this was true because they were both true of me. And I was afraid that now they knew the two divisions of questions that they might assume anything I asked was the latter.
They might have chuckled, I don’t remember, and I felt gagged. I wanted desperately to know what they were doing, but I knew whatever I said next would be directly tied to what I just revealed.
Finally, unable to stay quiet, and thinking it a safe question, I asked, “Why are you cutting that pipe?” They were working in the foyer, in between where the men’s and women’s restrooms were going to be.
The same fellow looked at me and said, for his friend’s benefit, I could tell, “Because it’s too long.”
I was aware of being mocked. I was the occasion for a joke.
I felt the thing I’d said with absolute clarity and honesty was not valued, and my vulnerability was not protected.
How’s that for a crushing blow in childhood?
It doesn’t feel hurtful now, and honestly I don’t remember if it “hurt” then. I do remember feeling humiliated and running it off in the unfinished hallways upstairs.
In Jane Eyre, Bronte observes
Children can feel, but they cannot analyze their feelings; and if the analysis is partially effected in thought, they know not how to express the result of the process in words.
This is my experience. And if there is any lesson I may take away from the memory (or impart through it), it is the reality that children are much more aware than we frequently credit them.
I do not remember this often enough.
This is why I want to honor (acknowledge, and answer to some extent) the questions my children ask and try not to use children for a joke they’re not included in.
(My next post will be about avoiding the crazies while “allowing” children’s questions to have value.)