I never panicked about four letter words in our house. Except for a regrettable stretch 14 years ago when I swore pretty much non-stop (thank you, undiagnosed bipolar disorder!), our family has never been big on cursing. Steve tends to save his choice utterances for the privacy of his office, directed at malfunctioning technology mostly. While I’m sure there were casual obscenities exchanged with their friends, the kids seemed to know what was and was not OK to say around Mom and Dad.
However, there’s a THREE letter word that, to my mind, was much worse than profanity during my progeny’s childhoods and teen years. This little word, spoken so very often, inspired annoyance, and even dread, in me. When it began a sentence, I just knew I was in for either a pointless argument, or a stumper I couldn’t solve.
The word? “Why.”
Category #1: Pointless arguments
“Why can’t I…stay up till midnight? Eat ice cream before dinner? See that R-rated movie? Drive my friends around with my learner’s permit?, etc. etc.” These queries would always be delivered in a very aggrieved tone, often followed by what they (vainly) hoped would be the clincher: “But everybody ELSE is allowed to do it!!!”
Category #2: Unsolvables (by me, at least without checking a reference book)
“Why is the sky blue? Why are there twelve months in a year? Why didn’t the dinosaurs come back? Why do people get sick?” Aiden’s reading is taking off right now, which is wonderful, but which has also spawned a whole new sub-category of whys: “Why do you write ‘forgotten’ with two t’s but ‘forgetful’ with just one?” “If the ‘e’ is silent, why do you need it?” “Why is Wednesday spelled like that?” I’m usually the one he asks, as the resident writer, which is galling because I rarely can explain this or that strange grammar rule.
When I do know the answer to a “why” question in category #2, I am guilty of over explaining to a ridiculous degree. Prime example: one day Sheridan, age 5, asked me why his Grandpa, my father, was bald. I launched into the lengthy true tale: he lost his hair in his early twenties, in the Army. He had volunteered to test some lotion or potion or other (for extra pay) and the side effect was the immediate, and permanent, loss of his hair. Sher waited patiently for me to finish talking, then he said, “When I asked Grandpa, he told me the wind blew it away!” and off he skipped, much more satisfied with my Dad’s story than mine.
I realize that “why” is invaluable to seekers of knowledge, and I’m not proposing we stop asking the question entirely. But I’d really love it if we could pull back on it some, and embrace the mystery that is other children’s later bedtimes, or the current lack of pterodactyls in Oreland.
Meanwhile, when you ask me “why?” “just because” is my answer, and I’m sticking to it!