“Mommy, are mommies born knowing how to take care of babies?” said my kindergartner as I wrestled her one-year-old sister into jammies.
“Not exactly. We have certain natural feelings that help mommies know they want to keep a baby safe and warm, but no we are not born knowing how to change a diaper, if that’s what you mean.”
“So how do you learn?”
“Well, for thousands of years women passed information like this along to their daughters and granddaughters when they became mommies.”
“Well who taught the grandmas?”
“And who taught them? Who taught the first people?”
“Um. I guess the first people just kept trying things over and over until they got it right.”
And so goes the latest example of my daughter’s curiosity about the nature of What Came First.
The conversation got even trickier with my husband. She wanted to know all about evolution and the origin of life. This came after reading Navajo legends of Kokopeli and the Ant People.
“What came before people?” she asked. “And what came before that? And before that? And before that?”
And so on, back to the beginning of time. Jeff finally ended the talk with “Once there was a big blob of mud that had electricity in it and that became life.” It was the best he could do on such short notice and without going into the Big Bang Theory and its inherent fears of infernal explosions.
These are Big Questions involving the nature of God, the Universe, and Infinity. I remember blathering on about these same curiosities on one ponderously long car ride until my mom finally shut me up with, “Honey, your grandpa told me that people smarter than us have gone crazy trying to answer these questions.” She blew my little mind, and left me gaping out the window at the expansive west Texas sunset, but I found comfort in knowing that I did not grapple in solitude.
Now, how to handle my daughter’s Big Questions? She’s too young for the Rite of Passage class at our church—a special program designed for third graders full of similar inquiry—or else I might gladly pass the buck over to Sunday school.
As it is, we are watering down our own admittedly blurry answers to some pretty tough questions. Philosophers and theologians spend their entire lives just trying to formulate the right questions, let alone finding the answers. So how do two laypersons pull it off?
I guess like many contemporary parents, we encourage the journey. Help find books, art, and music to inspire. Continue to take part in our free-thinking community of faith. And remind her that it’s okay to not have all the answers.