👀 👂🏽Seen and Heard at Safeway

The other day I was at Safeway, one of my favorite people watching places, and overheard a conversation between a parent and what was probably a tired two-year-old child. Trailing the duo I witnessed this:

 The child was standing up in the shopping cart, holding on tight to the rim with one pudgy little hand. Her other hand was reaching out to every package that Mama passed. “Oh, me want. We get. Please, please. Pleeeze!” You know that voice.

Little Child look tired. Those small lines were creasing under her eyes, indicating it was past nap time. Her face was a bit red. Her cheeks were flushed. 

When I looked at Mama, she had a similar flushed look. Her eyes were kind of squinty. She’d been responding to the requests with the stock answers.  

“Not now, maybe later.”   “No, I’m sorry.”    “We have some at home.”

Curiosity Personified

 The Child, adorable little thing that she was, asked, “But why?”

This “why” was repeated perhaps seven or eight times and Mama was getting a bit more than frazzled. She pulled the boss card. “Because I said so.” That’s supposed to be the conversation ender but not with a two-year-old. 

I caught Mama’s eye. “She’s two?” 

Mama: ”She’s good at it. “

The Terrible Twos

This made me think of that phrase “the terrible twos.” I don’t think the terrible twos are so terrible. For several reasons: 

1. Rebelling, saying no, and asking why are a young child’s way of trying to find out “What’s going on here?  Where do I fit in this place?” and being two, “I should be the center of this place.” 

2. Curiosity is one of the reasons I loved teaching children. I really liked those kids who asked why because then I could get excited myself and say, “Oh, let me show you.” I knew it would leave them curious for more.

I found when curiosity is acknowledged it allows children to find out for themselves. At the tender age of two or three or four, or even nine or ten, before the age of reason kicks in, they’ll be curious about everything if we let them. At 13, 14, and 15, when the age of reason should’ve set in, but the corpus callosum hasn’t been complete, the pathways of finding out why are often impulsive, which teens discover will not lead to solutions, and have sometimes downright dangerous and risky consequences. 

Still I wouldn’t ever want to stop that questioning of why. Why? Because I do believe that when verbal and higher level thinking skills have been encouraged along with curiosity, safer choices are discovered by the questioners, whether you’re two or twenty-two or seventy-two.

Why Does “Why” Sometimes Seem Negative?

“Why” has often become associated with a demanding, incredulous “What the heck made you do that?” tone. “Why on earth did you cut your brother’s hair- but only on one side?” It certainly became almost hardwired in me. Self-questioning after the fact, became pretty self-judgmental. What the heck was I thinking? Well most likely, I wasn’t. Until I let my curiosity come out and play.

Reading The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz gave me a clear perspective that erased “why” as a negative thing. Paraphrasing his advice: When we realize even dimly that we are controlled by Victim thinking or take the role of Judge scrutinizing every less than superb outcome as a failure, we must do as young children do as the not-so-terrible twos. Rebel. Say no!

I remember those days of wanting to say no or ask why. Now I know it was because there was something I believed was causing a problem. What was going on?

Ask Why in a Different Way- with an example of an innocent asker

Asking why in a curious kind of way allows the responder, young or older, to give a rationed explanation, not a defense. 

I had a young student who was oblivious to vocal tones. 

“So, what were you thinking when you threw your friend’s backpack out the second-floor window? I’m wondering why you did that?”

“I wanted to see how fast it would go down. I wanted to see if because his was heavier than mine it would go faster and hit the playground first.”

Brilliant. Curiosity was intact. He had procedural steps. There was no intent to harm. But not so safe. 

We recreated the toss with “spotters,” two cohorts down at the perimeter of the expected landing. 

“Clear!” shouted a spotter.

“Dropping now,” the tosser shouted. A stopwatch became involved.  I think there was a future NASA engineer in the making. 

Getting Personal

👧🏼My conclusion? Those terrible twos are not really so terrible. It’s prep for asking why and confidently saying no later in life to the bigger stuff. And being curious, staying curious through the years, learning to make mindful choices. And sometimes you have to say no to get to yes.

Next up: My Own Not-so-terrible Twos

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and her writing life. She’s retired from professional writing gigs after 30 years of teaching, coaching, editing, and gathering writers to publicly share their work. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. These days, in Tucson Arizona, she writes to inspire, to connect with folks, and for the pure enjoyment of it. Ethel enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Artists Standing Strong Together, and anywhere there’s a mic or a Zoom room.