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GAIL WHITE Enjoying the sweet sound of silence



Published: Fri, August 23, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Our 4-year-old walked in the house after swimming at the public pool with his dad.

There was a green, sticky ring around his mouth.

"Did you have fun?" I asked.

"Yep!" he said happily.

"What did you eat?" I inquired, examining the green ring.

"A dippy stick," David explained. "I was quiet."

I went from being upset about the pound of sugar the child had just ingested to being furious at the reason for the treat.

David, of course, had no idea he had just incriminated his father and bounced happily away to play.

I, however, stormed into the family room.

I found my subject sitting on the couch, reading the paper.

"Have a good time?" I asked innocently.

"Um-humm," he said, not looking up from his reading.

"Bought David a treat?" I paused a long, pregnant pause. "For being quiet."

I saw my husband's fingers tighten around the edge of the paper. My eyes, burning through the print, could see his look of horror and panic.

I am sure he was uttering silent, venomous words about 4-year-olds.

He slowly lowered the paper to find me standing over him, hands on my hips.

Time to 'fess up

For a moment, he was going to defend his actions.

He went with a plea bargain instead.

"He never stops talking," he pleaded his case. "I couldn't take it anymore. I told him if he would stop talking for five minutes I would buy him a candy. He tried really hard but then he started whispering to me."

It seems he bought the candy because he figured the child couldn't talk while he was eating it.

By the end of his story, I was in tears -- partly because it was so pathetically funny and partly because the child had been having the same effect on me lately.

With the other boys being older, it seems Pat and I had forgotten the preschool years of "Why?" and "How come?"

It doesn't matter what I am doing, where I am going or who I am talking to, David wants to know everything about it -- three times.

"Do you want to go to the neighbors with me?" I asked one afternoon.

"Why?" David wanted to know.

"To return their chain," I responded. (The chain is a whole other story.)

"How come?" David asked.

"Because we borrowed it," I explained.

"Why?" his little, blue eyes looked up at me inquiringly.

"So we could pull the van," I said, reminding myself to be patient. (Get the gist of the chain story?)

"Where?" he continued his barrage of questions.

"To the mechanic," I replied. By this time I could have been to the neighbors and back.

"Do you want to go or not?" I said impatiently.

"Where?" he asked innocently.

And the cycle of questions began again.

It is difficult to remain patient -- or sane.

It's just that age

Children are like a sponge at this age. Their questions represent critical steps in their cognitive development.

They are curious and interested in everything because, for the first time in their lives, they can see an object or hear a conversation and ask about its meaning.

It is a wonderful age of discovery.

Yet, there are moments in the life of the parent when this wonderful age of discovery has our ears ringing and our patience short.

I am not so sure my husband's method of pumping the child with sugar is an effective way to handle the barrage -- although he did enjoy several minutes of silence.

Perhaps we simply need to realize that in a few, short years we will be wishing for more conversation and questions from this child who now looks to us for every answer.

That makes "why" and "how come" as sweet as candy.

gwhite@vindy.com




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