There are certain questions that our children ask that we’re ready for. And then there’s the other 99%.
That’s not to say these questions are entirely unexpected. Just that they’re unexpected in the moment.
And so you um and er and babble a bit while you desperately try to figure out the right thing to say. Because, above all, you don’t want to say the wrong thing and horribly scar your child for life, dooming him to a sad and degenerate life of poverty and drug-use.
Because one not-quite-perfect answer is bound to do that. Right?
Anyway, I had one of those questions the other day.
One of those questions that means nothing to the child, but hits a social or political nerve with the adults around him.
“Mummy?” Big Brother asked, not even looking up from the picture he was colouring in. “What colour is skin colour?”
“Um,” I answered eloquently. “It’s… um…”
My impressive non-answer got his attention and he looked up at me, all big blue eyes and trusting expression. Because Mummy knows everything, right?
“Well…” I said, my brain running on overdrive. “What colour do you think it is?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “That’s why I asked you.”
Mutter mutter smarty pants mutter mutter.
“Well…” I said again. Then a moment of inspiration. “What colour skin do your friends at school have?”
He thought for a few seconds. “All different colours,” he said. “Some have blonde skin like me. And some have brown skin. And all sorts of different colours.”
He went quiet, and then looked at me with the intensity that says he’s just made some kind of intuitive leap of logic. “Can I look at your arm?”
I nodded and moved closer.
He put his arm next to mine. “Mmmm…” he said. “Your skin and my skin are a bit different.”
Then his little face lit up. He knew the answer. “Everyone’s skin colour is different!” he announced.
I smiled and nodded. I wouldn’t have thought of that answer myself, but it’s true. And you can always rely on a five-year-old to see what’s in front of him.
“Why did you ask?” I said.
He picked up a crayon and looked back at his picture. The conversation was done. “I just wanted to know which crayon to use for the boy’s skin.”
“Well, I guess you can use any colour you’d like,” I said.
And that’s why we have a picture of a blue-skinned boy on the wall.
Have you ever felt put on the spot by a child’s question?