Question Mark

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Mark’s homework on May 2, 2018 (Every day, I write 5 questions. He has to read them and answer them without my help. Nope, not torture, he loves it.)

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.



About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.


  1. Yesterday, we had to talk about sickness, and treatment and hospital because the daycare’s director announced to us, parents, her cancer. B. eventually asked me about the name of this sickness. I shrugged, realized there was nothing to hide, and tell her. « Cancer », she repeated, « ok ». I found it easier to speak about it with a 5 years old than a grown up, because there are no such things as death or pain in their way of thinking. They are very rational

    • Yes, EXACTLY! I’m slowly learning that 1) for kids, nothing is taboo and I want to encourage Mark to talk about stuff we adults would rather not talk about (homeless people, death, etc.) 2) there’s no need to give a lengthy explanation unless encouraged to do so. Phew.

  2. I remember kids I babysat asking me about the birds and the bees, had to tell them it was something they should ask mum and dad 😉
    And it’s funny seeing them explore the world and learn so much.
    When I was a kid, I loved, loved, loved reading my “tout l’univers” and later notre encyclopedie. Avant internet quoi!

    • Same here, “tout l’univers” power! Ah, these old red-cover books… I wonder how my grand-parents got them, come to think of it. Must have been expensive back then…?

      Mark doesn’t care about the birds and bees so far 🙂 This is a fun fact of life (unlike death) so I’ll be happy to answer questions about that one!

  3. When I was a kid, my parents bought us a small encyclopedia set (not the large Encyclopedia Brittanica type) and I remember devouring their content over and over again. I was about 6 when I got them and it was a feature of my childhood for several years after that.

  4. As you said, it’s always an honour to be asked a question from a kid because in that case they think you might have THE answers to any question Sometimes they need a detailed explanation, sometimes they just need to be reassured and sometimes they ask weird questions (I guess he asks you if he can go to pee because you are the boss and it’s a bit like at school, you need to ask your teacher or at least tell her you have to go to pee).
    I remember when my little brother was a little kid, he had a small bike and used to ride it on the pedestrian walk. He knew he couldn’t cross the road alone but he could either wait for us at the end of the pedestrian walk, or come back and then turn around. He used to ask us “I have arrived at the end, can I come back to you and then bike till here again?” Every single time there was a road crossing. So it was about every two minutes while we were having a walk XD

    • I had such a facepalm moment when I read your comment! 😆 I can’t believe I never thought that Mark is probably used to asking permission to use the bathroom at school. Mother of the year award here! I’ll ask him but I think you’re right. Thank you for your perspective@

      I love the story about your little brother. I can totally picture him (and you)!

  5. SUCH a great story. I always thought I’d get asked The Big Questions from my kids. But when they were little they always wanted to know totally random stuff like “are the Rice Krispie elves brothers or just friends” and “does spiderman have a belly button” and “if oranges were yellow, would we still call them oranges”. It was tiring, I’m not gonna lie :).

    • Your kids’ questions are AWESOME! So creative, so unique and… completely out of the blue, I bet! Do you even manage to find an appropriate answer?!

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