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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.

"So."

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.

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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.

"So."

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.

"So."

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."

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When I was expecting my first child, I wanted to know everything that could possibly be in store for his first year.

I quizzed my own mom and the friends who ventured into motherhood before I did. I absorbed parenting books and articles like a sponge. I signed up for classes on childbirth, breastfeeding and even baby-led weaning. My philosophy? The more I knew, the better.

Yet, despite my best efforts, I didn't know it all. Not by a long shot. Instead, my firstborn, my husband and I had to figure it out together—day by day, challenge by challenge, triumph by triumph.

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The funny thing is that although I wanted to know it all, the surprises—those moments that were unique to us—were what made that first year so beautiful.

Of course, my research provided a helpful outline as I graduated from never having changed a diaper to conquering the newborn haze, my return to work, the milestones and the challenges. But while I did need much of that tactical knowledge, I also learned the value of following my baby's lead and trusting my gut.

I realized the importance of advice from fellow mamas, too. I vividly remember a conversation with a friend who had her first child shortly before I welcomed mine. My friend, who had already returned to work after maternity leave, encouraged me to be patient when introducing a bottle and to help my son get comfortable with taking that bottle from someone else.

Yes, from a logistical standpoint, that's great advice for any working mama. But I also took an incredibly important point from this conversation: This was less about the act of bottle-feeding itself, and more about what it represented for my peace of mind when I was away from my son.

This fellow mama encouraged me to honor my emotions and give myself permission to do what was best for my family—and that really set the tone for my whole approach to parenting. Because honestly, that was just the first of many big transitions during that first year, and each of them came with their own set of mixed emotions.

I felt proud and also strangely nostalgic as my baby seamlessly graduated to a sippy bottle.

I felt my baby's teething pain along with him and also felt confident that we could get through it with the right tools.

I felt relieved as my baby learned to self-soothe by finding his own pacifier and also sad to realize how quickly he was becoming his own person.



As I look back on everything now, some four years and two more kids later, I can't remember the exact day my son crawled, the project I tackled on my first day back at work, or even what his first word was. (It's written somewhere in a baby book!)

But I do remember how I felt with each milestone: the joy, the overwhelming love, the anxiety, the exhaustion and the sense of wonder. That truly was the greatest gift of the first year… and nothing could have prepared me for all those feelings.

This article was sponsored by Dr. Brown's. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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I was blissfully asleep on the couch while my little one was occupied elsewhere with toys, books and my partner. She got bored with what they were doing, escaped from his watch and, sensing my absence, set about looking for me. Finding me on the couch, nose-level, she peeled back my one available eyelid, singing, "Mama? Mama? ...You there? Wake UP!"

Sound familiar? Nothing limits sleep more than parenthood. And nothing is more sought after as a parent than a nap, if not a good night's rest.

But Mother Nature practically guarantees that you are likely to be woken up by a toddler—they're hardwired to find you (and get your attention) when you're "away."

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