Lockdown Parenting: When toddlers start asking Why
The most heart-wrenching question for me is when I force my two-year-old son to put a mask on each time we step outside and he asks “Why, mamma?”
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My son is a little over two years old, but the sentences he has started to form and the number of those sentences that already constitute questions is mind-blowing. Peppa Pig is the unwitting culprit here, from whom he has absorbed most of these dialogues, cocky jabs like “Silly Daddy” and questions like “What’s that noise?” each time the washing machine cycle starts to sound like an aeroplane taking off or a noisy motorbike on the street below is zooming by, loud and audible from the open window.
But the question that is the most heart-wrenching for me is when I force him to put a mask on each time we step outside and he asks, “Why, mamma?”
For a child, just a little over two years of age, this “why” may well just be another innocent and unwitting utterance learnt from Peppa’s brother George on YouTube, but they learn very quickly where and when questions need to be aptly applied. And I find myself gobsmacked each time.
It breaks my heart that we have to raise children in a world where face masks, temperature checks and a festering paranoia about hygiene have become commonplace. (Photo: Reuters)
It breaks my heart that we now live in a world and have to raise children, in what is widely described as our “new normal” – a world in which face masks, temperature checks and a festering paranoia about hygiene and public spaces have become commonplace. I look around us, when we step outside for some fresh air or a quick dash to the nearby convenience store, at the families with children — young and old — wearing their face masks seemingly with great ease and comfort. They seem to fit quite comfortably within this new reality and its new demands from us — laughing, scootering, skipping along, just happy to be outside again. A small price to pay for some fresh air and freedom from the shackles that have bound us to our homes for many months.
And yet I struggle to answer this question “why” even as my hands rush to fasten his mask, veiling a small, confused face and highlighting questioning eyes that bear into my soul and tug at my maternal heartstrings a bit more. “Because uncle says you can’t enter his shop without putting the mask on.” “Because the uncle might get angry and call the policeman.” “Because mamma and papa are wearing it too.”
It’s easy to con a toddler and satisfy him with concocted stories but in the blink of an eye, he will be all grown up and my con-artistry will be of no use. In the blink of an eye, the pandemic will be in the past and we will be telling tales of it to our grown-up kids – old enough to comprehend the enormity of the disease, the gravity of its ruin of humanity and economies across the world, and the butchering of a way of life that was once understood as “normal”, giving way to the world in which they now have to grow, live, work and lead the way – adopting methods and habits adhering to their inherited “normal.”
I am jolted out of my reverie as my son tugs at his mask again and hands it to me with a rebellious “No.”
“No chocolate for you if you don’t put the mask on.”
The smile tugs at my heart again as he rushes to obey, taking the bait as any child of that age would do.
I suppose the day will come when his “why” will have to be answered with the story of how a virus originating in a small city in a large country spread like wildfire around the world, crippling it almost irreparably in the most unprecedented of ways.
For now, I will revel in the knowledge that this conversation is still quite far away.
For now, I will be content with wiping some chocolate off a tiny, happy mouth and bracing myself for the next “why” headed my way.