“Mom? Tell me again, about how I was a baby.” Charlie is asking me one of his favorite questions. He always phrases it in such a way that sounds as if once he was a different type of life form altogether. And, when I look over at this kid who seemed to grow two feet in two weeks, he might be right.

Charlie usually asks such questions while he is working on homework at the kitchen table and I am chopping vegetables he will later refuse to eat. I pause in the chopping, and smile, and we both go into it. It’s a favorite story—about how he behaved adorably at his church dedication ceremony. The story has been told so many times that it is as well worn as our Thomas the Tank Engine books. Charlie savors it. He loves to review that he was tiny yet powerful enough to elicit coos of adoration from the entire congregation.

But then Henry swaggers past, and, as Henry often does, he puts a twist on things.

“Mom?” He pokes vehemently at my squishy belly. “Charlie was in there” (another rippling poke), “but . . . how?”

And, just like that, I am a parent embarking on the “How Babies Are Made” lecture series. I am a bit sweaty at the palms. There are so many rules. I must answer all questions with a clear and calm voice. I cannot get squeaky. I must not use cutesie words for specific body parts. And I am definitely not supposed to sloooooowly sidle out of the room in the middle of all of this, in hopes that both boys will stop talking to me.

It’s a memorable experience, the first time your kid asks you where babies come from.

At one point in my parental learning curve, I would have thought the babies thing would be one of the toughest questions. And then my learning curve basically gave up on itself in exhaustion, deflating completely, as if to say, “Good luck, lady. Just try to keep up.” Why did this happen? Because children, that’s why.

So here are two things I am realizing about kids and questions: 1) They ask 57 questions an hour. Admittedly, I have no actual data on this, but that sounds about right. 2) At bedtime, when you’re exhausted, that’s when kids ask the real humdingers. Children don’t want to sleep. They want to ask you things like.

On TV earlier? What was that? Why were all those people fighting and hurt? Could that happen here?

Why did our neighbor have to die?

My friend says Jesus is fake. How can he say that?

And this lovely little tongue twister:

Why do you say not to say words, but you say them? Because I heard you say one. Today.

And on and on.

This constant onslaught of Big, Bad Questions leaves parents with three options.

Option one is what I like to call Operation Lockdown, and it’s totally fun. All you have to do is make sure your kids are completely blocked from anything (or anyone) that might instigate questions. For example, there shall be no television, no talking to “those” friends, and no neighbors. Also no radio, movie previews, park visits, dying pets, dying people, or cranky grandparents with salty language. This list keeps growing, like a bloated amoeba of hyper-aware awfulness. Our world contains some fearful stuff, and so it’s very important to keep our boys away from all of it.

We don’t operate out of fear. We don’t lock our children out of the world because we are asked to be in the world. 

This, as you know, is impossible. My kids don’t get access to mainstream television very often, but still, news footage of the war in Afghanistan snuck up on us one afternoon after Sunday football. And, as I watched my boys watch the screen, I wondered, should I leap across the room and shield their eyes? Or does the act of leaping across the room make it worse, somehow? And don’t they need to learn to filter some of this on their own? Within reason? And aren’t we as parents supposed to be able to sprinkle “within reason” judiciously into our kids’ lives without freaking out, so they can grow up and not be weird and sheltered? Evidently, I have a lot of tough questions too.

Option two when dealing with tough questions is to get tough right back. Get your inner General Patton all locked and loaded, ready for any sort of controversy or discomfort. When your six-year-old asks you why his best friend doesn’t believe in Jesus, you shout, “What do you mean he doesn’t believe in Jesus? Last I checked, kid, Jesus isn’t like Tinkerbell, where we all clap our hands and hope for the best. Listen up, soldier. Jesus is real. You know how I know? It’s in the Bible. End of story. Oh, and also? You will never speak to that child again. But, we’ll pray for him because he’s going to H-E-double-hockey-sticks.” This approach always works well. The whole addition of fire and brimstone to the discussion stops your kid from ever asking any questions again. It’s a great way to shut down the late-night annoyances of deep thoughts—and sometimes? I kind of long to go that direction. It would certainly make parenting easier, I guess. Your children will become rather stricken and confused a lot of the time, but still. It’ll be quieter.

Option three is a compromise between option one and option two. I do realize that as believers we are tasked with a lot of tough-sounding language regarding our faith: not to be lukewarm; put on the armor of God; fight the good fight; run the race to the finish. Our faith is not namby-pamby. But, our conversations can be soft. We don’t operate out of fear. We don’t lock our children out of the world because we are asked to be in the world. We don’t lock down conversations with blanket statements and judgment of others and General Patton. Let’s face it: Patton doesn’t seem very kid friendly.

How to answer all the hard questions:
1. Know that you won’t get every single hard question there is all at once. You have time to prepare. Don’t panic.
2. As much as you prepare, know that at some point, some child is going to ask you a question that scares the pants off you. Again, don’t panic. That’s what prayer is for. Keep the pants on. I repeat. PANTS STAY ON.
3. Understand that most hard questions stem from fear. Or sex. Or some combination of both.
4. There is no answer key somewhere that gives you, word for word, what to say. Parenting has no easy button. But we do have the Bible.
5. If all else fails, sock puppets.

All of this is easier said than done. But, that pretty much sums up parenting.

The bottom line is, questions happen. Our children ask so many that it can be hard to keep up. The questions, once uttered, need to be able to alight gently on a place with no threat of lockdown or General Patton showing up. They need a soft landing; otherwise, they might bounce off of the hardness of this world, and who knows where those questions will go then? They could be lost forever and, with them, relationship. We must be soft and listen. Only then can our children be heard and answered well.