Only kids get away with ‘I don’t know’

“Because I Said So” column for The Commercial Appeal

Aug. 29, 2013

Only kids get away with ‘I don’t know’

Throughout their young lives, our children will come to us with questions. Some of them are astute and keen questions meant to further their knowledge and understanding of how the world works. Most, though, are inane and meant to draw our attention away from what we’d rather be doing — watching television or updating Facebook.

But there are no bad questions, right? We are told that all questions, good or bad, are an opportunity for learning. Whatever, I’ve been a parent far too long to still believe that.

Regardless of the merit of the question, we, as parents, must have the answer. We were the first Google. We are the bearded guru atop the mountain, the wise old sage wrapped in a head scarf and peering into a crystal ball. I am the blind Master Po giving guidance and awaiting a young Kwai Chang Caine to snatch that pebble from my palm.

I had to Google “Kung Fu” to find all of that information on the 1972 television show.

It’s exhausting, isn’t it? The questions, the answers, the skeptical looks from a 10-year-old who is beginning to doubt your wisdom. Wouldn’t it be easier to just say what we’re thinking, to give voice to the indifference we feel toward a 7-year-old who needs to know right now, at bedtime, what kind of cake she can have for her upcoming birthday party in eight months?

Wouldn’t it be perfect to just say: “I don’t know.”

But we can’t. In a world where there are no rhetorical questions, it’s our job to have the answers. Yet they can say it. “I don’t know.” It’s been heard more around this house lately than I don’t know what.

Who left this backpack on the table? “I don’t know.” Who spilled the milk in the living room? “I don’t know.” Why haven’t you done your homework? “I don’t know.”

It’s such an elegant sentence, isn’t it? It must be so freeing to be so absent of any responsibility whatsoever, to have those three little words absolve you of any and all obligation with the ease of a vocal shrug.

Could we, as adults, try it just for a day?

Sir, do you know how fast you were driving? “I don’t know.” Very good, be on your way.

Credit or debit? “I don’t know.” You know what, just take it.

I would be happy to use it solely on my children. Instead of all of the typical answers I have to have — it’s in the bathroom she’ll be home in one hour meatloaf the other one is your left foot David Carradine — I could just answer them all with a simple “I don’t know.” Followed quickly, of course, with “Your mother doesn’t know either!”

Will we ever be left in peace? Will our children ever become accountable for their own homework, feedings and bedtime routines? Couldn’t I just spend one weekend on top of that mountain without interruption?

I think we all know the answer to these questions.

Permanent link to The Commercial Appeal