On skunks and hard questions.
February 02, 2012

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.


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.

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  1. By on February 02, 2012

    i’ve asked myself that question as well. something that’s helped me is think about the questions i had as a child/teen and the way my parents answered. and now looking back, what i wish they’d told me that they didn’t, or what i wish i had learned a different way.. you know ?

  2. By tara pollard pakosta on February 02, 2012

    Ha, you taught me something. I didn’t know skunks ate anything and everything! she’s a COOL smart little girl that one>!
    and yes, questions get harder, hang on to your seat, parenthood is a wild and beautiful journey, that’s for sure….
    you are doing a GREAT job with her!
    it so reminds me of when my Savannah was little, before Ava came and I was able to teach her so much with the quality one on one time. I loved that….she was only 19 months & 2 days old when her sister came and after that it was a LOT harder to find that time to just sit with her for hours (she always loved to learn and reminds me so much of your charlotte).but we still were able to read hundreds of books a day because I could still read while I nursed. gosh I miss those days!
    sorry for the rambling.

  3. By on February 02, 2012

    You are braver than I, because I’m dreading a lot of those questions - because I hope Hannah will make different choices in some areas of her life than I did.

    Also: aren’t you lucky that she is satisfied with “I don’t know, we’ll look it up later!“  If I tell Hannah I don’t know, she wants to know WHY YOU DON’T KNOW ____.  And does not let up.  GAH.

  4. By Sarah S on February 02, 2012

    I struggle with this so much. Even as my kids get older (5 and 7 now) I still have a hard time with the ugly side of the world. Racism, Sept,. 11, child molesting. These are all things I have skirted very much around because while I want them to be safe, and they have had to learn some safety lessons, I want to preserve their innocence as much as possible. It’s a fine line.

    Also? Sex? I completely thought I was going to be the super honest parent who talked easily with her kids about it until my 6 year old started asking detail questions and I balked because in my head I was having this open and loving mother/daughter conversation with a, oh I don’t know…. 10 year old? Someone older. Parent fail.

  5. By on February 02, 2012

    In one (very trying) day, my six year old and I discussed Osama bin Laden and 9/11 (during which her grandpa was in the Pentagon), MLK, Jr. and racism, why Mr. Mike has a boyfriend even though he’s a boy, and sea monkeys. 
    NONE of these things was I prepared to talk about. 
    This was the same day we had to have the talk about ‘vagina’ not being an appropriate word for the classroom. 
    And I totally use the “I don’t know, I’ll look it up and get back to you” with my kids and my high school students I teach.  I like to think they appreciate that I don’t act like I know everything already.  Or at least, that’s what I tell myself.

  6. By Megan on February 02, 2012

    I’m 26 and I myself don’t know how to grapple with these things.  I don’t know why some people are dishonest, or have the answers to your questions above.  I just try to be the best person I can be, to love people well, and put one foot in front of the other.  With grace and dignity.

  7. By on February 02, 2012

    I still wonder how I’ll answer some of those questions…......but children never cease to amaze me with the questions they come up with and what they want to understand. My daughter was 3 and asked me why my dad died (whom she never got to meet) and what exactly happened (tell me momma she said, tell me how he was sick and why he died and what happened then). So we had a very open and honest discussion about cancer and the things she thought to inquire about still amaze me, but perhaps even more was that after that (unexpected) conversation I realized that I’ll always be able to handle this parenting thing no matter how intimidating or scary the questions might seem before I get them.

  8. By Sarah Christensen on February 02, 2012

    Erin - I honestly think the only reason that these things do not leave me quaking in my boots is because my parents talked to me frankly and honestly about just about everything.  I don’t really know anything different, so I don’t worry about it.  Charlotte already understands the gist of how sex works and how babies are formed (there’s a book at the library with pictures of each day after conception throughout an entire pregnancy, it’s freaking awesome) and how birth occurs and how this relates to our bodies and how this process works with other animals (mostly birds because she sees our rooster sexing up his hens all the time), etc. so I feel like the hard part of that talk, which is the one talk I dreaded most, is over.  Now all I have to do is stick to my story and elaborate upon it as she grows older and that seems do-able.

    But I have to admit that if, like Sarah S, I have a six-year-old asking questions more explicit than what I anticipated, I might be uncomfortable when I’m answering them.  We’ll see what happens in the next ten years =)





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