My kid has always had a way with words. She is unwittingly cutting at times, and shockingly clever a lot the time. In her six years years on this planet, she has developed a most curious way to tip people off to exactly what tone she will be taking in her interrogations of them.
There are few other words that make me tremble. "So" means that she is about to lay down some bluntness. It means she is going to cut right to the chase. "So" is her cue for me to listen close and ponder what level of awkward laugh I will have to offer once she has said her piece.
One memorable moment happened a few months ago at one of our girl group meetings. About 16 girls get together—ages five and six— to do crafts and talk about friendship and other pertinent topics. The leaders (myself included) also work hard to show these girls that they are capable of whatever they put their minds to.
We invited a police officer to this particular girls group meeting, to speak to the girls about all the work it takes to become a cop. While keeping it (young) child-friendly, the officer explained some of the items on her belt, including a baton. Her explanation of why she had that ended with something along the lines of, "Sometimes we even have to break windows."
And my daughter's hand shot straight up.
And she was called on.
And she started with… "So."
Time slowed down for me in that moment. I looked back at the cop, knowing that she had no idea what was coming. Heck, I had no idea. But hearing that word was enough. I knew something was coming.
"You would break a window, but you wouldn't try the door?" The sass was thick, the indignation palpable. It was logical. Why wouldn't you just try the door? It's obvious, Miss. Police Person—isn't it? My daughter stared as if she was trying to break the officer's resolve. I imagined it was the same steely glare this officer would lay down on a criminal. I was immobilized in the seconds of silence between the question and the answer.
"Sometimes the doors don't work, so we use this as a last resort." The response assuaged my daughter's incredulity and the Q & A went on. Questions were simple from there, with the other girls asking about the radios and if the officer got much sleep. Then the call for final questions happened. My daughter's hand shot up—again.
My eyebrows raised in shock. What else could she possibly ask? The officer had been thorough, transparent and age-appropriate. What else could she come up with? What else would elicit another dreaded, "so"?
"When were you going to tell us about the gun you're carrying?"
Cue the shrieks of terror from half of the girls there who suddenly believed that the gun in the room meant imminent danger, while the other half were dazzled and asking if the officer had any cool stories to tell.
My daughter sat patiently, staring the woman down. The officer looked at me, a curious mix of pleading and...approval? Once we managed to calm the girls down, the officer explained (using yet another story of a school shooting in the news as an example), and even at five or six years old, the kids understood.
"We don't like to use our guns. But sometimes we have to in order to keep people safe. Like in schools if a bad person got in." I was impressed with the direct, but not-excessive answer. My daughter was not.
It was at this point that my own composure shook and all I could do was offer the most awkward 'I'm sorry' smile to the officer. She nodded and my daughter went on with the question. "What if you shoot and miss? There are kids in schools." The officer finally looked defeated and offered little more than a resigned sigh. "We are trained to make sure that doesn't happen."
That ended my daughter's questioning. The officer left shortly afterward, and the meeting came to an end. My daughter and I then headed home.
As I was tucking her into bed, she smiled widely, "I asked so many questions today!"
"Yes, you did!"
"Aren't you proud of me? I made the police lady think hard."
I paused. Her use of "so" made me shudder—but why? Why would I be worried? She is a child. She is a girl. And she had questions that needed answering.
I grew up wondering many things but was hushed quickly. My parents would try to nurture what they could but the school I attended and the society we STILL live in doesn't like children asking hard questions. They aren't supposed to have hard questions, especially little girls, who seem to have extra layers of nonsense to contend with when they give voice to deep thoughts.
But they do have these thoughts and questions—that need and deserve answers. So with a big smile of my own, I nodded at my girl, "I am proud of you. I want you to keep asking questions that make grown-ups think hard."
"So… I can make you think hard?"
"Yes, Bug. You can. And you always should."