A child named “Mark” naturally asks a lot of questions.
I barely pay attention to the rhetorical ones, addressed to no one in particular. The daily “CAN I GO PEE?”, for instance, usually when he watches TV, as if he was excusing himself from the wonderfully puzzling adventure of SpongeBob on Nickelodeon—really, guys, a sponge? “Yes, you can go pee!” I shout back. “We’re at home, there are three toilets available, all cleaned regularly by yours truly—when was the last time I forbid you to go pee? You don’t need to ask! Actually—please don’t ask!”
Then there are the trying-my-luck questions, best asked when Feng and I are focused on work or on making dinner.
“Can I have a banana? Can I help you? Can I watch The Walking Dead?”
“Yes, yes, y—… wait. No, absolutely not. I don’t care what yéyé and nǎinai let do you, you’re not watching that!”
If you’re new here, yéyé and nǎinai are my in-laws, who apparently have never heard of the film rating system. Then they complain when Mark has nightmares. Ahem…
And then there are the big questions.
Around three years old, most kids go through a “why” phase—why is the sky blue, why do you do this, why does the ball bounce, etc. At three, Mark didn’t care much for an answer to his endless stream of questions, the key was to use this new powerful word he had learned—“why.” With a why, you can get mommy’s and daddy’s attention. Whys are fun. Whys are a way to connect, not to seek knowledge.
But five-year-old Mark demands real answers to real questions.
Mark’s big questions always come out of the blue—even though I’m pretty sure he has been thinking about them for hours—and they often start with an assertion statement.
“Yéyé’s mommy and daddy are dead.”
My in-laws, who are in their seventies now, have black-and-white portrait pictures of their deceased relatives at their place. I’m sure Mark saw them.
“Yéyé says you die at 100 years old. Can you imagine? I’m FIVE ALREADY! And yéyé and nǎinai are OLD! I’d be sad if they die.”
“People don’t magically die the day they turn 100. The truth is, no one knows when they are going to die. And yes, yéyé and nǎinai are old but they’re healthy. They won’t die soon.”
“Daddy has white hair, too. I’m worried he’s gonna die.”
“Daddy is 43 years old. That’s pretty young, actually.”
“So when do people die?”
“No one knows. This is one of life’s mysteries. And the greatest thing is, we don’t think about it because if you think about it all the time, you forget to live. You forget that life is fun. It’s okay to be scared people you love won’t be here forever but meanwhile… they are here.”
“Are you going to die?”
“Am I going to die?”
The question brings tears to my eyes. This is harder to hear than thinking about my own mortality.
“Yes. Everybody dies one day.”
Phew. And I was just peeling carrots. Now I feel like I’ve just diced 200 pounds of onion.
“Am I going to die because I puked yesterday?”
“Everybody dies eventually but I can guarantee you don’t die from puking because you ate too much pizza at yéyé and nǎinai.”
Phew, back on safer ground.
When we’re not tackling death, I’m being quizzed about sharks, Jewish menorahs (??) and the human body.
“Are you moving right now? No. But a part of your body is moving. Can you feel your heart? It never stops beating.”
“Wow… Eh, eh, can I feel your heart?”
“Mommy, your milk is in the way?”
“Dude, I ran out of milk like five years ago, you drank it all. That’s my breast and yeah, it kind of is in the way.”
I ended up buying Mark an encyclopedia. If you have questions about killer whales, volcanoes, earthquakes or movies, try me.
I don’t always have the answer. I don’t always feel like talking about stuff I’m secretly worried about too.
But I’m honoured I’m being asked those questions.