59: The Question I Didn’t Need to Ask

59: The Question I Didn’t Need to Ask

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Amazing Mom

The Question I Didn’t Need to Ask

The art and science of asking questions is the source of all knowledge.

~Thomas Berger

My first word was probably “Why?” My toddler questions weren’t the usual ones like “Why is the sky blue?” or “Why does a cat have whiskers?” Instead, they leaned more toward “Why can’t I have another cookie? I’m still hungry.” Or one of my constant favorites, even today, “Why do I have to go to bed? I’m not sleepy.”

Yes, I was a classic strong-willed child with an inquiring mind. Mom knew how to handle me from the start. When she finished an explanation, she’d often pat me on the back and say, “It’s always okay to ask questions; it’s one of the best ways to learn.”

That was my signal that it was time off from questions. If I persisted, she’d reply with a short response and then lead my interest elsewhere by asking me about the games I played with my dolls.

When I started elementary school, my questions didn’t end, nor did my mother’s responses. I learned she had three adages about questions: 1) There is no such thing as a dumb question. 2) You won’t learn unless you ask questions. 3) You may not always like the answer to your question.

Working on a papier-mâché sarcophagus for history class, I could not get the hang of how much paste to use, which resulted in more paper sticking on me than on the sarcophagus. In utter frustration, I whined, “Mom, I can’t do this!”

She replied softly and simply, “Why not?”

“Because I can’t” wasn’t an acceptable answer for her.

Together, we worked on completing my project. She asked details about what needed to be done and let me find the answers on my own. Something else happened as well: Our bond as mother and daughter grew. Mom shared with me some of her own experiences in growing up and being frustrated over similar school projects.

Mom had the patience of a saint with all my questions. School was a totally different situation. Some teachers wearied of my inquiries that slowed their lessons down, so they ignored my hand in the air. Others had fun with my queries and answered back with questions of their own.

As a high-school student, I believed I could figure out things on my own and didn’t need my mom’s help anymore. Or so I thought until I broke up with my first real boyfriend. I came home from school that day, ran into my room and shut the door. Knowing something was wrong, she knocked gently on my door and then walked in. When she saw me crying on the bed, she brushed her hand over my hair. “What’s wrong, honey?”

Between sobs, I replied, “It’s Drew. We broke up. He said he wants to be with Rosemary and not me.”

“I’m so sorry this happened. It’s hard growing up and learning people may disappoint and betray you. This storm in your life will pass, and things will get better. Remember, believe in yourself and know you are special in God’s eyes.”

“How would you know about getting hurt?” I asked as I wiped away my tears. “You and Dad have been married forever.”

Mom chuckled. “I know it’s hard to believe, but Dad wasn’t my first love. Jimmy was the one who broke my heart. And if he hadn’t, I probably wouldn’t have met your dad. See, things do get better.”

My college choice was out of state. Now the questions were coming from my mother, asking about my classes and my new friends. During semester breaks, we got back to our in-person Q&A. My favorite discussions were about my broadcast-media class, where I co-anchored a talk show for a local cable TV channel. Mom loved watching the tapes I brought home. Her questions about the show always entailed “Why this?” or “Why that?” This gave us both a laugh as we realized the tables had turned, and now she was the one asking all the questions.

After college, I married and learned there were matters beyond my experience. Once again, I was drawn to ask Mom questions such as: How do you make love last? How do you make a budget and stick to it? Mom showed me how to live by asking me leading questions so I could find the answers that worked for me.

Mom has since passed on, and my husband now bears the burden of my many questions. He often refers to me as “She Who Questions Much.” He’s come to understand that if he makes a statement and I respond with, “Really?” I’m not doubting the veracity of what he said. It’s merely my way of beginning the five Ws—who, what, where, when and, my personal favorite, why. In return, I’ve come to accept his rolling eyes, which means, “Can’t we just get past all the questions?”

I’m still practicing Mom’s three favorite adages about asking questions and receiving answers. When I’m at a business seminar, I’m always the first to have my hand up. The same goes for town hall meetings. When the discussion opens for questions, I’m ready with the first one. No matter where I am, if something catches my attention, I make sure to take the time to inquire about the details.

And it all started when I was a child, when Mom said, “Do you have any questions you’d like to ask?” She taught me it was always okay to ask and seek out answers. However, there was one question I never had to ask her—“Mom, do you love me?” She always showed it in her encouraging ways. Thanks, Mom, for being such a great role model of love.

~Christine L. Henderson

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