A couple weeks ago when we were walking home from dinner at my parents’ house, Donald and Charlotte and I saw a skunk. We gave it a wide berth and continued on our way, but something about our near encounter of the stinky kind left an impression on Charlotte.
THIS!, she shouts, pointing to the drainage pipe we saw the skunk run into, A SKUNK LIVES IN THIS! IN THIS PIPE! And then she tells me the story about the night we saw a skunk. Except that in two-year-old-glish, “we saw a skunk and gave it a wide berth” translates to a full fifteen minutes of narration.
Fifteen minutes is, for the record, a very long time to pretend to be wildly interested in the neighbor’s drainage pipe and a skunk story I’ve already heard three times this morning.
Over the past few days, however, her interest in this one dinky little skunk took a turn for the curious. A couple mornings ago when we were eating breakfast, Charlotte just looked up at me with eyes as big as saucers.
MOMMA!, she cried. Yes, baby? MOMMA! SQUIRRELS EAT NUTS! Yes they do, baby. AND, AND THE PRAYING MANTIS EATS BUGS! YEAH, LIKE CRICKETS! Yes they do. AND, AND CHICKENS EAT WORMS! Yes they do. AND, AND GOATS EAT AFUFFA (alfalfa)! AND, AND CATS EAT GOPHERS! Why, yes they do, darling.
MOMMA! WHAT DO SKUNKS EAT?
Hmmm. I made an educated guess (plants, small rodents, and “we’ll look it up when you’re finished eating”) and then she started rattling off her skunk-and-drainage-pipe diatribe and I just sat there thinking HMMM.
I know that it’s just a small question – what do skunks eat? – but it made me realize that over the course of the next twenty or thirty years she is going to ask me thousands of questions that I simply will not know the answer to. In time, she will ask me questions that there are no answers to at all.
Ahhhh, the picture of innocence.
It was one of those moments where I suddenly felt just a little bit daunted by parenthood. I am ready for Charlotte to ask me about sex (just be safe about it, please) or about religion (whatever you want, kiddo, as long as you don’t try to convert your father or he’ll disown you) (kidding) or about death (it happens, so don’t bother worrying about it) or about environmental changes (so there’s this thing called carbon…). Even if I don’t get the answer right the first time, I know exactly how Donald and I will approach most of the so-called hard topics.
But how am I going to explain human trafficking to her? Or the great lengths to which some have gone to keep homosexual marriage illegal?
How am I going to explain rape?
And how am I going to explain war?
How am I going to explain the car accident that stole the child of one of her favorite people in the whole world? And how am I going to explain the cancer that stole the father of one of her pint-sized buddies?
How am I ever going to find the right words when that inevitable day comes when someone breaks my daughter’s heart? Her precious, beautiful, compassionate heart.
I wonder how many days I have until these questions start turning up. In the meantime, I took Charlotte to the library and we learned everything we could about what skunks eat. Because at least that’s an answer I can find.
Answer: EVERYTHING. Grass, rodents, birds, eggs, lizards, insects, frogs, plants, birds, everything. Skunks are totally nature’s garbage disposal.