06/29/2013 04:34 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017


Caren Chesler

"Mommy, why is the sky blue?" "Mommy, why eat dinner? Eddie no want dinner." "Why go bed? But why?" We are officially in the 'Why?' stage.

This morning, my 2-year-old son, Eddie, said he had to make a poopy, so I asked him if he wanted to go on the potty. I could smell that he'd already gone in his pants, but he never tells me beforehand, so I'm left trying to potty train him after the fact, like rushing to catch a school bus that's already departed. Surprisingly, he said he did want to go on the potty.


I carried him into the bathroom and placed him on his little children's toilet and said, "Here," and handed him a book.

"You can read a book while you're on the potty, just like mommy and daddy," I said.

I figured if he reads books on the potty like we do, perhaps he'd poop like we do.

He looked down at the book, "Why?"

"Why, what?" I said.

"Why read potty?"

"Why do we read on the potty?"

"Yeah," he said.

"Hmmm. I don't know," I said. "Because it gives us something to do?"

I didn't want to get into how it takes me a long time to make poopy because I don't drink enough water, but I knew he wasn't going to be satisfied with the answer I gave him.

"Why give something to do?" he asked.

"Because it's boring to just sit there," I said. I picked up one of his books, and said, "Let's read," and I began to read, because sometimes the only way to stop the endless stream of why's is to sever the conversation, like cutting the strands of Play-Doh as they're oozing out of the fun factory.

The interesting thing about responding every time he says "why" is that you begin to see how your thinking doesn't always make sense. This evening, we went to walk a neighbor's dog, and Eddie wanted to hold the dog's leash so my husband handed it to him. Eddie began to run with the dog, pulling on his leash so that the dog would follow, when it seemed like at that moment in time, the dog preferred to just dawdle and sniff.

"Eddie, let the doggie pee," I said.

My son kept pulling on the leash and then started to trot again, as the dog was trying to urinate.

"Eddie, stop. Let him go to the bathroom," I said.

My son stopped for a moment but then began trotting, and the dog began to trot behind him. But the dog soon found a spot on which he wanted to pee, and he tried to stop, but my son kept tugging on his leash.

My husband started to take the leash from my son's hand, but Eddie wouldn't let go.

"I do it," Eddie said.

"Eddie, let daddy do it," I said.

"No, Eddie do it!" my son said, grabbing on to the leash more tightly.

When my husband tried to take the leash away, Eddie began to cry.

"Buddy, let daddy hold the leash," I said.

"Why?" he said, tearfully.

"Because you have to let the dog stop and go to the bathroom," I said.


"Because that's why we're out here. So he can go to the bathroom," I said.

A few minutes later, Eddie managed to get ahold of the leash again. Now, the dog wanted to run and Eddie was trying to hold him back.

"Hey, pal, let the doggie run," I said, knowing I was saying the exact opposite of what I'd just told him.

"Why?" he said.

"Because the doggie hasn't been out for a while, and he wants to run," I said.

"But why?"

"Just because," I said.

Sometimes "why" seems to perform a function, like as a way of keeping the conversation going when he has so few words at his disposal. And then sometimes the "why's" feel like his way of wrestling away control in a relationship where he has so little. My husband sometimes does this on the phone when he detects I want to get off: he'll start asking questions to keep me on, and then when I start answering them, he'll say he has to go.

Sometimes "why" seems almost profound, like today, when I pointed out how someone had put a large plastic fish around the outside of their mailbox. The flap of the mailbox opened inside the fish's mouth.

"Look, Eddie. It's a fish. Their mailbox is a fish," I said, pointing out the car window.

"Why?" he said.

I looked at the mailbox and thought about it. "I have no idea," I said.

I guess we all struggle to understand the things that go on around us. I remember when my husband and I first started dating, he had tickets to see a Red Sox game. The seats were in a corporate box, and he told me he hoped I didn't mind, but it was going to be a "Guys Night Out." Of course I didn't mind, I said -- until he returned home that night and told me his brother and his best friend had both brought their girlfriends. It was basically a party in the corporate box, with food and drinks, and everyone had brought their spouses. I asked him why he didn't think to bring me, and he said, he thought it was going to be just the guys.

"But why did you think that, and they didn't?" I asked.

"I don't know," he said. "I just thought it was going to be the guys."

"But why?" I said.

"I just figured it's a baseball game. It's a guy thing," he said, wishing he'd acted differently.

"But why did you think it was a guy thing, and they didn't?" I asked, wishing he'd acted differently.

"I don't know what to say," he said.

"Maybe you want to hang out with your friends more than you want to hang out with me," I said.

"No, I don't," he said, like a cornered animal.

"But I just don't understand why, when push comes to shove, all things being equal, they thought to bring their girlfriends, and you didn't? I just don't get it," I said.

"I'm sorry," he said.

"I know you're sorry. I know. I just don't understand why you did it," I said.

Sometimes, "Why?" means, "How could you do that to me?"