“Asking Is the Answer,” Feb. 4, 2020

Remember the old joke about war drums in the jungle? A hunter asks a guide, “Should we be worried about those drums?”

And the guide shakes his head and says, “Not until they stop.”

The same goes for children’s questions. It’s exhausting trying to answer them, but we hope they never stop. As parents and grandparents and adults who care for them, we want them to ask whatever’s on their minds.

If they don’t get answers from us, they’ll get them somewhere else, maybe from someone who doesn’t love them as we do.

As a mother, I did not do everything right. Far from it. But I tried to answer my kids’ questions as best I could. If I didn’t know an answer, we’d try to find it together. And if the answer was not to be found (as when our dog died and they wanted to know “why?”) I’d think long and hard, then tell them what I thought.

Children will answer life’s questions for themselves as they grow up. But to do so, they need to hear what others believe, especially the people they love and trust most of all.

My daughter was the “Queen of Why?” When she was 3, she’d follow every answer I offered with yet another “Why?”

One day, I snapped. “Well,” I said, “why do you think?”

So she told me what she thought. And I realized she’d been waiting for me to say the answer she had in mind.

After that, if she asked “Why?” I’d say, “Why do you think?” And she’d tell me. Then she’d go play until she thought of a new question.

She now has her own highly inquisitive 8 year old, plus a classroom of third graders, who constantly bombard her with “why?” And I’m pretty sure she often says, “Why do you think?”

My grandchildren ask questions nonstop. If I don’t know an answer, I tell them to go ask Papa Mark, my husband, a retired editor, who will either (a) know the answer; (b) Google it; or (c) make something up.

But sometimes the questions, simple as they seem, catch me unaware and slip inside closely guarded places in my heart.

“Who is your mom?” asked my granddaughter. Eleanor is 5, trying to make sense of the world. The recent passing of the grandmother of a friend has raised a flurry of questions.

“My mom’s name was Betty,” I said. “She would’ve adored you.”

“Did she die?”

“Yes,” I said. “She was old.”

“My dad’s dad died.”

“I know,” I said. “He was my husband. He got very sick. He would’ve adored you, too.”

She nodded. “And then you married Papa Mark?”

“Yes. And now he adores you. So many people adore you!”

“Your dad died, too? And your grandma and grandpa? Do you miss all of them?” she asked.

I took a moment to breathe.

“Well,” I said, brushing her hair with my fingers, “I miss seeing them. But even if you can’t see someone, you can still love them and know they love you. I keep them in my heart. That’s where I keep you. Where am I when you can’t see me?”

She pointed to her chest and recited the answer I’ve drilled into her and her brothers and cousins since they were born.

“In my heart!”

“That’s right,” I said. “And that’s where I will always be, even if you can’t see me. I want you to remember that, OK?”

“OK,” she said. “Can we get some ice cream?”

Children aren’t the only ones who need to ask questions. Adults need to do it, too. Asking questions keeps us young — in spirit, if not in body. When we stop asking questions, when we think we know all the answers and try to force them on others, we get really old really fast.

I hope to stay young (in spirit, at least) til the cows come home and the creek don’t rise and the dish runs away with the spoon.

Why? I want to hear every question my grandbabes will ask, and shake my head in wonder at their answers.


  1. cecilia glembocki says

    I so love your writing skills. Ar first I thought you had died but Glad you’re still alive. We are getting ready to stage a graduation ceremony for our 4 grandchildren. We loved your grandmothers s;peach at graduation. My husband will try to incorporate a few ideas in his master of ceremonies moments of wisdom. You are so wonderful and inspirational.

    Sincerely Cecilia Glembocki

    Started a story thought and its about remembering your past and telling a story.

    • Cecilia, I’m emailing you a copy of that column. Thanks for asking! Please congratulate your grandchildren for me on their graduations! All the best to you and all your family!

  2. Tony Dingus says

    I haven’t heard the joke and can’t find it anywhere. Would you mind sharing it with us that are not so well informed?

  3. Kate Sciacca says

    I sure wish I would have asked my mama more questions…. I realized the other day that I don’t even know where she went to high school or where she lived after her dad died (when she was 15, her mom died when she was 7). She never brought up these things, maybe she didn’t have good memories of her growing up years…

    The youngest came in the kitchen yesterday and had lots of “20 year old” questions… about politics and Super Bowl halftime shows and how to deal with all the stuff coming at him every day…. it was a joy trying (as best as I could) to answer his questions. Thanks ma’am…. your column reminded me how great it is to be asked 🙂

    Hope you and yours are all healthy!

  4. Today when they ask so many questions, just say, “GO ASK GOOGLE.” JUST KIDDING, it’s a joke 🙂

  5. Sarah Webster says

    Love it.

  6. Taska S Maybry says

    Sharon, always love to read your articles. So very honest and real.

  7. Oh…my…gosh….Sharon!!!! I did the same thing with my girls and now my grandchildren!!!! “Why do you think?”…..I love it!!!!! I love this column, too!!!! Love you!!!!!

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