WHITNEY: Looking for answers

What does it eat? That’s been the big question around here lately.

We already know a dog says "woof woof," a cow says "mooooo," a bear says "grrrrrrr," and a dinosaur says "ROAR!" We usually practice animal sounds on the swings, which I’m sure sounds hilarious from the other side of the fence.

We’ve pretty well mastered our mooos and woofs, however, and now we’re moving on to bigger questions, like “What does it eat?” What do dogs eat, mom? What do bees eat? What do flowers eat? Easy enough, right? Dogs eat dog food, bees eat pollen, flowers eat water and sunshine (sort of, but Olivia’s not ready for real biology yet).

Then the questions get harder. What do the swings eat? What does Play-doh eat? “Um. Well? Play-doh doesn’t eat. It’s not alive, and only living things need to eat,” I reply, feeling like the smartest mom in a five-mile radius.

But then Olivia plays the trump card.


Yes, we’ve reached the stage of unending whys. It came on sooner than I thought! But here I am, stammering, because just as I suspected, I don’t have all the answers. That’s called self-awareness.

What I know about the question “Why?” as posed by children is that it’s rarely sincere. I’ve seen my friends’ kids (and OK, I was guilty of this as a kid too) use the question as a means of frustrating their parents. Can we get ice cream? No. Why? Because we’re going home for dinner? Why? Because you need something nutritious. Why? Because you’re growing! Why? Because that’s how life works. Why?

In the hands of, say, a 9-year-old, the question is a weapon.

At my daughter’s age — reminder, she’s 2-and-a-half, despite what she might tell you — it’s an innocent enough request. When she asks why, she’s really saying, “Tell me more about that.”

I’m not trying to discount the inquiries of the entire 9-and-up population. Maybe they really want to know more too. After all, parents, you’re in charge. Why can’t you simply say yes to ice cream? Maybe this is an existential matter!

So this is what I’m trying to do: When Olivia asks why, I tell her as much as I know, at length.

“Why do lions eat other animals? That’s mean.” Well, some animals can’t eat plants because it will make their tummies feel sick, so they have to eat other animals. It’s sad when the other animals die, but that’s how the lion gets energy.

Every once in a while I find myself reaching for my phone and asking, “OK, Google, why are there carnivores and herbivores? I don’t understand either.” But I’m OK admitting that I don’t know all the answers but in the process showing my daughter that there are lots ways to find them.

Why? Because that’s how life works.