The Librarian and the Toddler

What I didn’t know until the last year is that for the past decade I had been training to answer all of the questions that my young son asks. As a public librarian, you answer the same question many, many times. You get a little patter down for things like how to print, the login process for the computers, and the eternal question as to the location of the bathroom. It becomes so rote you can answer while making a shopping list in your head and you only stay engaged enough in case you misheard the question or they don’t understand your answer. You are ready and set for the same question because it will always arrive.

Long before my family life, I took care of my grandmother for a couple of years. Dementia robs a person of many things, which included short term memory in the form that she had. With this symptom, I truly learned a level of patience that did not exist beforehand. It was a constant struggle in mastery, but to be patient with a loved one taught me the valuable skills I would need once I had entered the public library field. Empathy is what people are also seeking as they show their vulnerable side in asking for assistance. It’s something I didn’t possess in vast quantities but learned to grow in those times with my grandmother.

Between the profession and the life experience, it has prepared me for answering the thousands of “whys” that are posed to me by my children. Being a librarian, I want to answer them all as best I can. Some might find this to be a fool’s errand since one answer simply yields another “why” and the process continues on ad infinitum. But I can’t help myself as I enjoy answering questions, I like helping people, and he is (usually) asking reasonable questions. So who am I to not try?

Why does it rain, Daddy? Why are the birds there? Why are we stopped right now? Why do we go to school?

That’s just a rough sampling and I answer every one. And yes, even the why’s that magically appear after I’m done speaking get their turn for an answer. I will say “I don’t know” just as I would to a person at the service desk or my grandmother when she was confused about something. I’m not afraid to show him that even Daddy has limits of knowledge. I’m sure eventually we’ll talk about how to safely search for answers online (the same way I do when I don’t know something while helping someone), but that day is not here.

Lately, when I can, I try to turn the questions back on him. Why do you think it does X? in the hopes of generating critical thinking skills. He can sometimes give me a good answer or a good guess which gets praised or adjusted as needed. But sometimes, like all of us, he just wants an answer and so I tell him.

We haven’t gotten to the existential questions yet (why are we here, why do we die) so I’m still fielding easy ones. But when that day comes, I hope I can give him a good answer. Hopefully.

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