The first time it happened, we were at In-n-Out waiting for our burgers. In front of us was man in full Army uniform, missing a leg. “Mommy,” my daughter whisper-screamed as only a toddler can do. “Where’s his leg? Why doesn’t he have a leg?”
I reacted like many new parents who also lack social graces and are busy juggling a baby and an active toddler when they just want a pile of fries and a milkshake to dip them in. Which is to say, I mashed up a shushing noise with a mumbled, “We’ll talk later” and the dodge-and-weave tactic of asking if she wanted ketchup. I never mentioned it again.
But that was just the beginning. The horror show that is parenting a curious child continued. “How does the baby get inside the mommy?” “How come you lied to my teacher?” “Why are so many of your friends getting divorced?” These awkward questions never came at home, or in the privacy of our car, but instead in grocery store aisles, in public restrooms and while marching in the Pride Parade where I found myself hunched over my seven-year-old son on his rainbow-bedecked scooter explaining condoms and that people sometimes had sex not to create a baby but instead just for fun.
In my golden-hued fantasy world, I’m the type of mom who can roll with these types of questions, articulating a thoughtful answer for anything my children ask. But that’s not my superpower. Instead, every week — if not every day — there was a new situation which I tap-danced around until I inevitably fell down some rabbit hole where I ended up over-explaining the many variety of lies or boxing myself into some rhetorical corner where I found myself inexplicably defending atheism to a six-year-old.
One day, I was complaining to a friend about this challenge and she laughed and said, “Have I got the solution for you!”
Presenting the Best Okayest-Parent Hack of All Time: when faced with an awkward or difficult questions, say, “That’s a great question. Let me think about the best way to answer it”.
Bam! You just bought yourself time to frantically Google “how to talk to your kids about what happens after death”! Or call twelve friends for moral support! Or map out all the ways this conversation could go wrong before you even start! Or even (let’s be real) nip a bit of adult beverage to make the conversation easier!
The key, though, is to make sure you come back with an answer. No wimping out. It is your job to find a time to say, “Yesterday you asked me about [whatever they asked]. Can we talk about it now?” Otherwise, it won’t work next time.
Be aware that this tactic has an expiration date. After about three years, my kids started to catch on. Now, when he asks a tough question, my son will roll his eyes before I open my mouth. “I know, I know. Give you some time to think about the best way to answer me.” My daughter has become skilled at framing her question in a way that is hard to dodge. “Let me think about the best way to answer” is a weird response to, “Have you ever smoked weed?”
But still. It’s a brilliant tool. So brilliant that I use it with everyone: my husband, my co-workers, my boss. Of course, now I’ve shared it with the world so you all know what I’m doing next time I nod at your question and say, “Wow. Great question. Let me think about the best way to answer it.”