Another way to answer your child’s questions

Today I’m drawing inspiration (forgive
the pun) from Calvin and Hobbes and its creator Bill Waterson. Sadly, I
don’t have permission from United Press Syndicate to put the strip up on our
web page – Hobbes charges a pretty hefty appearance fee.

Sorry about that – it’d be awesome
to have it up here.   

But we still have two options that
don’t involve breaking copyright law.

Option one:


(then come right back, please!)  🙂

Option two:

Simply read on! I’ve transcribed
this strip below. (In case you haven’t got a lot of time, rest assured: it’s
only about as long as a Haiku. For those of you who haven’t got a lot of time and who don’t know what a Haiku is, it’s about
as long as a Tweet….)

Scene: Daytime. Calvin and Parents driving over a
bridge in the family car. At the foot of the bridge, a sign reads: “Load Limit
10 Tons”

Calvin: How do they know the load limit on Bridges?

Dad: They drive bigger and bigger trucks over the bridge until it
breaks. Then they weigh the last truck and rebuild the bridge.

Calvin: Oh. I should’ve guessed.

Mom (to Dad): Dear, if you don’t know the answer, just tell him!

I have read this comic many times
over the years. It stirs up mixed emotions for me.

I find it reassuring, funny, and sad all at the same time.

For me it’s reassuring because my parents weren’t
like Calvin’s dad. 

They respected my childhood curiosity. To them, being
curious was natural and necessary.

I remember being very young and asking
questions at the dinner table. Invariably, my mom would jump up and run to the
shelf of New World Encyclopedias in our living room. She’d grab the right volume
and page through it to find answers.

That’s one way she joined me in my
curiosity. She made it safe to ask questions. And she demonstrated that even
mom’s don’t know everything.

Unlike lots of adults, it seems my
parents get more and more Curious every year. And my wife and I do our best to
pass on this spirit of Curiosity to our son.

So, that’s why I find this comic reassuring: It reminds me that I have
parents who tune into me, who acknowledge and embrace my curiosity, who do
their best to listen.

Who in your life helps you know it’s ok to ask questions? Who makes it
safe to be brave enough to say, “I don’t know”?

What about funny?

I don’t know about you, but a
bunch of things come together in this comic to make me smile.

Firstly, there’s the look on the dad’s face as he tells this outrageous fib to his kid. He
is smiling the purest, most innocent smile. No smirk, no snickering, just a
joyful expression.  

And the line itself. “They drive bigger and bigger trucks over the bridge
until it breaks” – to me that’s smart-funny.
It’s a witty line.  

In the 19th century
Calvin’s dad could’ve riffed with Oscar Wilde. In the 21st century,
he could win an Epic Rap Battle.

Though Calvin’s dad, despite his
wit wouldn’t do either, of course.  

And that’s the sad part:  Calvin’s dad
has sort of given up on Curiosity. 

I don’t mean to put too fine a point on it,
but it seems to me that his witticism collapses the very bridges his son is trying
to build.

Meanwhile, Calvin, is so jam
packed with Curiosity he’s bursting with it.

That’s why his hair looks like an
explosion: Calvin is literally bursting with Curiosity. And like all kids, what
Calvin really wants is for someone to burst with curiosity with him. To join him in his wonderment and to help
him make sense of the world around him.

I have to special talent, I am only passionately curious. Quote by Albert Einstein

At minimum, joining with a child in their curiosity really is a multi-stage process: 

Join the child, engage their curiosity, then answer. 

Or, if you don’t know (or are willing to pretend not to
know for a while), team up with the child to find out the answer to their

This does a lot of things:

  1. It honours their
    inquisitive spirit
  2. It models love and
  3. It opens the door to
    doing something way more interesting than playing Candy Land for the zillionth
    time that day (any thing but Candy Land, or the Game of Life. Yuck!)
  4. It collaborates and empowers. Kids often love working together on stuff. And, hey, don’t worry,
    it might hurt your feelings a bit to be rejected by a seven year old, but you
    can handle it! If they don’t opt in to investigating with you, at least you’ve
    offered, you’ve gone over and above in order to build bridges with them. 
    GOOD! You know just as well as I do that there is nothing more precious than a child with her eyes lit up with curiosity and passion for something.(…Nothing more precious, except, let’s be honest, a sleeping child.)

In short, save your cynicism for
the next time a teenaged stranger asks you to pick him up a six pack “Cuz I
left my ID at home, man”.

Or when you glance at the
magazines at the check-out line. “Really?!
I could have a body like that in only 6 weeks?! Yeah, right!”

Young people haven’t learned to fear Curiosity. They don’t know yet
that it’s a sign of weakness to not know stuff or to be really, super
passionate about the world around them. They need us to acknowledge that
Curiosity is human kind’s truest form of engagement with the wonderment of the
world. (It also helps us to know stuff we don’t already know, like how to put
on our pants without getting both legs in the same leg-hole.)

Without Curiosity, our questions

They become rhetorical: Why did you
do that? (Meaning: Only a right and
proper idiot would do that.)

Without acknowledgement that
Curiosity matters, we become defensive or snap back in anger. 

Or maybe we simply shut down and shut up.

For me, Calvin’s response is the
saddest of all:

“Oh,” he says,

“I should’ve guessed.”

So, on behalf parents and of all
of our inner-children I offer this correction:

[And feel free to try responding
like this, if you don’t already, next time a child asks you a question.]

“Calvin, you asked a clear
question. You saw the sign that said “Load Limit 10 Tons”. You read it correctly.
And you wanted to know how they got that number 10 Tons. I don’t know the
answer, but your curiosity makes me feel curious too….

Do you have any guesses, Calvin, about how they got know the load
limit for that bridge? What are some ways to figure out how strong a bridge is?
[I’m sure Calvin has lots of ideas – I would have when I was his age.]

…Maybe when we get home, Calvin, we
can look it up…

…in the New World Encyclopedia.

In my next post I’ll write about
how we can fully embrace Curiosity in ourselves and in the children in our

After all, without the Courage to be Curious, we’re left in
the dark valley…

…weighing the wreckage.



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