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“When I Say a Word, You Say ‘Good Question’”
Cheese pizza with Socrates
The latest news in Kina’s mental development—and in the hot new trend of conversational turn-taking—is questions at the dinner table. This is Kina’s idea, the exploration of our collective ignorance over a meal, and she’s as interested in the asking of a question as she is in its answer; since a true aficionado of questions knows that the best compliment one can receive is “Good question!”, she insists that every question we ask each other be accorded that respect. This is not necessarily to say that every one of her questions seems that sophisticated at first blush. Some of Kina’s more recent questions, for example, include:
“Why is there not adobo in this rice?”
“Why is there not light for my eyes in the doctor kit?”
and the classic, “Why are clams spicy?”
Other questions are slightly more probing:
What happens to the Christmas tree after we take it to the park?
What haven’t you done in a long time?
In both categories, though, we’ve found that there’s interesting conversation to be had in the details of some of our answers. Not all rice is adobo rice, which reminds us that rice is everywhere, and that people have been eating rice in Asia and Africa in countless different kinds of dishes for thousands of years. Clams aren’t spicy, but it’s interesting to wonder why some of the dishes we eat that have clams in them are spicy—and why others aren’t. Explaining why we mulched our Christmas tree today helps us better understand how plants live, die, grow, and decay. Finally: there are many, many things we haven’t done in a long time—some of which we hope to do very soon, and others which we may, sadly, never do again.
Kina is generally a pretty inquisitive kid now. By my count, there are at least a few dozen questions in the enormous notes document I keep for headlines in The Daily Kina. I remember parents of young children telling me that answering simple questions could grow tiresome, but I’m still pretty enchanted by the whole exchange. She asked today what time of day ice appeared, and for a moment I imagined a world in which puddles seized up and icicles unfurled from the eaves of houses all at one in the morning, emerging like crystalline bats in the night. “It comes when you’re asleep,” I told her, allowing the fantasy to meet us where we’re at in this world, where temperatures drop below freezing only once we’ve drifted off—a truth that feels like mystery. It reminds me how much I enjoy barely knowing the shape of a thing, catching the glimpse of new knowledge at a distance. I love a good question, and so it makes me happy to have a kid who asks questions, who’s learning that there are gaps to fill. It makes me happier with my own gaps.
Maybe someday I’ll get tired of answering questions, but I don’t think so—not just because I have a problematically active explainer’s brain, but because there are so many things I’ve forgotten to wonder about as I’ve grown up. Kina’s questions are shaking the dust off of understanding that has long grown stale for me, and restoring light to those dark places reminds me how wonderful it is to be four, and what a thrilling thing it is to be learning all the time. These are good questions—really good—the things Kina wants to know about.
I’m glad she’s asked.