The Hows and the Whys
Curious children Giving George a run for his monkey
Ever since Muffin was about a year and a half old, her favorite word has been "why." She wants to know why things are the way they are. This desire to know extends to almost everything in her universe.
Questions she has asked include, "Why does rain fall?" (prompting a brief explanation of the water cycle from Michael); "Why does Mommy have to go to work?" (prompting a short explanation of what parents do during the day); and "Why is it breakfast time?" (prompting a terse response regarding scheduling and having to get to playgroup on time).
Squeaker, on the other hand, wants to know how things work. She intently watches everything I do, whether it is folding laundry, hammering nails, or making dinner. She wants to know how her clothing ends up back in her drawer after it goes into the laundry bag. She wants to understand how the pieces of wood stay together. She wants to know how dough and sauce and cheese become the pizza she loves so much. And she wants to participate in the process.
Muffin and Squeaker have shown a level of curiosity that I both appreciate and fear. I appreciate that they want to understand the world around them. I love that they want to learn how and why things are the way they are. However, their desire to do precisely what I just asked them not to do can be frustrating and occasionally scary, especially when it is born out of their innate curiosity. And, unfortunately, there are situations where only having experienced the consequences can they understand why I told them no. Muffin, for example, did not understand why I told her not to roll around at the edge of the bed—until she fell off.
I cannot stop them from being curious, and I don't want to. But Michael and I have instituted some rules for the girls that will, with luck, inject a bit of safety and precaution into their explorations. For example, the girls love to see what I am doing in the kitchen. But our kitchen is, almost by definition, not child-safe. So from the time they were walking on their own I told them that they were not allowed into the kitchen without specific permission. As they've gotten bigger, they have learned to ask to come in, though they (especially Squeaker) sometimes wait to ask until they are already halfway into the kitchen.
Another precaution we have set up is an early-warning system. When the girls were younger and running back and forth between Michael and me, one of us would call out "Incoming!" to warn the other that a girl was headed their way. As the girls got bigger, they learned to yell "Incoming!" when they ran from wherever Mommy was to wherever Daddy was, or vice-versa.
Since they learned the power of "Incoming!" we have instituted it as a watchword for an upcoming stunt. Thus, if one of them wants to run at me full-tilt (in a game we've come to call "Oog," in which they run at me and I respond with "Oog!" when they barrel into my chest or stomach) they have to first call out "Incoming!" to warn me that they are coming. Likewise, Muffin knows that if she wants to stand on a chair and pitch forward into my arms, and not fall kersplat on the floor, she must first call out "Incoming!" so I know to catch her.
For the moment, I am content to let Muffin and Squeaker be curious little girls. Part of me wonders if Muffin and Squeaker will some day become scientists or engineers, continuing to discover the hows and whys of the world around them.
This week’s column is written by Nomi S. Burstein.