My husband and I have affectionately nicknamed our five-year-old son “quiz master”. Dinner, car rides and quite moments are now his opportunity to ask us a variety of questions, rapid fire and nonstop. I’d always heard that children enter a phase where every statement is followed by the question “why”. However, I didn’t know there would also but a “who, what, when, where, how and to what extent.
His questions range from the hilarious to the absurd to the profound. Among many others, he asked what is buy one get one free mean? Why does the dog wear fur? Where do we go when we die? His questions have made me laugh, tear up and pause. I realize that by asking questions, he is learning. After all, he has only been in this world five short years so everything around him is new, unknown and waiting to be discovered. My husband and I are his unofficial tour guides and as such we must field his questions to the best of our ability. The only problem is when you don’t have the answers.
I don’t know if you can have toys in heaven or if the dog is actually smiling. I don’t know which strangers are dangerous. I don’t always know what details to include and which to exclude. When I have a complete and understandable answer at the ready, I feel competent and able to teach and when I don’t know how to explain a concept or give a clear answer, I feel humbled and unsure.
But thankfully and much to my enjoyment and pride, my son also never lets one word he doesn’t know slip past without a requested definition. Ah, a question to which I often confidently have the answer and one that has helped me to remember why I love words.
As a writer, words are my tools, my medium in which to create stories. But often the familiarity of daily usage can cause apathy in appreciation of the beauty of words and their meaning. We often know how to use the word in context but are pressed to know the definition. My son’s curiosity has forced me to recall specifically a word’s meaning and to define it in a manner understandable to a small child. This practice has reminded me of the beauty of words and how the nuance of meaning can change the entire complexion of a thought or idea. I have always loved learning new words and now I have the opportunity to watch him develop that same love.
Of course, there is one word that my son has never asked me to define—“love”. He has asked me the meaning of “hate” but never love. In fact, he seems to intuitively understand the what, who, when, where, how and to what extent of it. It is the word that every parent waits to hear, loves to hear and makes up for the scattered toys, spilled spaghettios and foul moods.
My son says, “I love you” every day, many times a day. He says it after I do; he says it randomly; and he always says it sincerely. He is detailed, poetic and generous in his description of love. He often asks, “Do you know how much I love you?” Another question yet one I never tire of hearing and one he readily answers. “I love you one hundred times around Jupiter and Saturn and Moon and back to Earth and right to your cheek”. His easy and often use of the word “love” and his innate understanding of it has taught me a valuable lesson.
The mother, the writer, the lover and user of words learned that some can’t be defined or explained. Instead, there are some words that are just felt and known and understood and that lesson has made me love words even more, perhaps all the way to Jupiter and back. But more than words I love my little boy and how he taught me that with love—no definition is necessary.
Causes Sherry Parnell Supports
St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, Habitat for Humanity, Heifer International