“Big Questions” column for Sept. 6, 2016

Little people like to ask big questions. Once, we were having lunch with my grandson, Henry, who was 4, at a restaurant that offered as a special “bison stew.” Henry knows more about animals than Dr. Doolittle and Noah combined. At the time, he was especially taken with bison.

“Oh!” he said. “I love bison! Is it very spicy?”

The server smiled. “A little spicy,” she said. “Not much.”

“I’ll have that, please,” Henry said, happy with his choice. His mother and my husband and I exchanged a look, but said nothing. When the stew arrived, Henry dug in and ate it all. The server was delighted.

“I’m glad it wasn’t spicy,” she said.

“It was a little spicy,” Henry said, “but not too much.” Then he furrowed his brow and asked the big question: “How did they get the bison into the stew?”

After a brief silence, we all looked at the server. She swallowed hard and said, “Well, we use special bison, raised just for food, not the bison that live in the wild or in zoos.”

Henry squinted, poised for more information. When it didn’t come, he pursed his lips to ask another question. Then suddenly, he nodded.

“OK,” he said, dropping the subject, as if he’d understood more than he wanted to know.

Why do we spend our early years asking questions and our latter years pontificating on how much we know? If life is meant for learning, maybe curiosity is the true fountain of youth?

Henry asks great questions. Sometimes he knows the answers, but wants me to guess. Last night when my husband and I took him out to dinner to celebrate his soon-to-be fifth birthday, he said, “Nana, do you know what I like best?”

“No,” I said. “What?”

He grinned his best Henry grin and said, “Being with you.”

I was moved to tears. But my husband just laughed, winked at him and said, “Smart kid!”

Henry was finishing dinner (“This hotdog is fabulous!”) when he asked a question I didn’t want to answer. “Nana, what’s a graveyard?”

It was a subject I knew quite a bit about, having had vast experience in the topic. But when I weighed all the answers, I didn’t like any of them. Nevertheless, if a child asks a question, that child deserves an honest answer. So I tried.

“Well, sweetheart,” I said, “when our bodies die….”

Every answer led to bigger questions. Finally, I said, “I think you need to talk to your mom about this.”

“I already did,” he said.

“What did she say?” Turns out she told him the same things I did, things I told her when she was his age.

Later, back in our hotel room, while we waited for Henry’s mom to come pick him up, he said, “Nana, do you think there are raccoons around here?”

Once into bison, he is now into raccoons. And possums. And rats. The scarier the better.

“Sure,” I said. “Raccoons love hotels. Possums and rats, too.”

“Really?” he said. His eyes looked like hubcaps. “Will you take me out to find some?”

What do you think? Would I say “no” to someone who’d just told me his favorite thing was being with me? Of course not. I got my husband to take him.

After 20 minutes of scouring the parking lot with a flashlight, they gave up and came inside to search my husband’s iPad for scary photos of raccoons and possums and rats and such.

I wish you could’ve seen them.

You don’t need to be smart, or have all the answers to field questions for a child. You just need to listen and be willing to learn all the marvelous things they will teach you.

Henry was so scared he wouldn’t sleep for a week. But we would sleep like babies.


  1. Weldon Walker says

    Sharon, if you remember, I told you of my grandson Walker once and I can so relate to this story as Walker is 4 also. I am so glad you still write. Thank you

  2. scott saalman says

    Well done, Sharon. It’s always a treat to read a dose of goodness from you.

  3. j bruce baumann says

    Sharon, my two grands are 9 and 8 (16 months apart), and the questions have been asked to
    Google first. It does make for interesting conversations. You remind me with each column that our time on this planet has fewer days, but that the children are anxious to forge ahead.

    Tell Mark, he’s one lucky guy.


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