Anyone who has spent time with a toddler is all too familiar with the “why” stage. Every statement that an adult makes is followed by a tiny, pestering, voice asking “Why?” The too-pat answer of “Just because” rarely ends that conversation because children of that stage just won’t give up. Eventually, they grow up and in their teen years, the conversation flips to the parent always asking “Why?” Of course, by then the child no longer cares to continue any conversation with his or her parents and the “why” becomes moot.
Here’s the thing. I come from a family of what I call “why” people. We can’t just let things be. We have to know why. And this time it isn’t solely my mother’s fault. I’ll blame it on my dad, too. My dad was probably a biologist for a reason — to search for the answer to the “whys” in his mind. My mother, on the other hand, just has to know why things are the way they are.
So…again, this is a genetic thing. I know this is so. Here’s an example: as a teenager, I developed a severe case of Achilles tendonitis in both ankles. This in itself is quite painful, so I finally sought relief from the family doc. He hemmed and hawed, then left the room and returned with a hypodermic the size of a horse needle. I asked why. Wouldn’t any sane person want to know why?
His response was to snort at me and say, “You’re just like your mom and your brothers. Always wanting to know why.” Well, hey, buddy, it’s not every day a doc wants to inject my Achilles tendon with a giant hypodermic. My response was to keel over in a dead faint. I’m still wondering why he did that.
I developed my tendency to question things at any early age. My preschool years were spent on a farm outside Bluffton. We just lived in the house . But the man who farmed it kept cows in the barn. Outside the barn was — of course — a fenced-in area full of manure. My mother had warned me numerous times not to go into that area. After asking “why” so many times, I finally got the impression that she meant that the cows might attack me. But they were so cute, with their big brown eyes and switching tails that one day I decided to explore the area. Don’t try this. As it turned out, my brother had to hose me down with ice cold water before I was allowed in the house for a bath.
My inquiring mind and unwillingness to accept “because” for an answer has caused me much pain. During my childhood, we rarely wore shoes during the summer which means that we were constantly stepping on things — bee stings were a commodity. One summer day, my dad was setting up our tent in preparation for an upcoming vacation. As I walked toward him, he cautioned me not to come near if I was not wearing shoes. Before the “why” even popped out of my mouth, I took a step forward. Suffice to say that rusty tent post stakes can cause serious injury. In fat, the pain from the resulting tetanus shot — directly into the cut — still causes my stomach to flip over when I think about it.
In about fourth grade, I was skating on the frozen Riley out behind my best friend’s house. She and I were investigating something on the bank near the college cabin. She said to me, “Don’t go over there.” I didn’t bother asking “why” that time. I just did it. Stuck my foot right on the spot she’d pointed at. Went right through. It wasn’t frozen. My toes were. But hey, I just wanted to try it for myself. The trouble was — unknown to me — my uncle was spending the weekend at the cabin with his Boy Scout troop. Apparently, they happened to be hiking nearby and he saw me do it. He never let me forget that.
Similar events have occurred over the years as I’ve continued to question just about everything. Age has not made me any wise, nor has it dimmed my wish to know the “whys” of things. I still ask “why” at least 10 times a day. It’s a genetic trait I have passed on to my children. It has gotten them into trouble from time to time, but on the other hand, it’s taught them some measure of self-sufficiency.
Personally, I think life would be pretty boring if I didn’t ask “why” from time to time. I want to know why the dog circles and circles and circles in the quest for the perfect dumping site. I want to know why my computer font size increases every time I take it with me to an off-site location. I want to know why my shoulder could go from rotating 360 degrees one day to less than 90 the next. I want to know why the sun won’t come out.
Most of all, I just want to know why.