By Janet Villa
Today Anna asked me five why’s in quick succession. When I ran out of answers, I had to do the only quick survival tactic available to tired mothers: I pointed out the window and shouted, “Look!” (So what if every slapstick comedian does that? It worked this afternoon.)
One day Anna is going to ask us, why is the sky blue? My first thought is, “Because it doesn’t look good in red.” It might make her laugh, perhaps make her think out of the box, maybe exercise her imagination, but in the end it won’t help her much.
So this is what it also means to raise a mother—I have to read.
I read because I know so little. I’m not as smart as a fifth-grader. I don’t have to be all-knowing to Anna; heaven knows pretending can only take me so far. But I fear that an “I don’t know” might come across as “I don’t care to know.”
I read because given my influence in this phase of Anna’s life, our mother–daughter dynamics take after the usual writer–reader dynamics: whatever interests me interests her; whatever does not interest me would hardly interest her. An “I don’t know” does not excite curiosity.
I read because learning fuels my thinking and Anna’s. Reading uncovers mysteries. Books open doors. Understanding opens hearts. An “I don’t know” repels questions.
I read because I do not know enough to make a good decision. Sir Francis Bacon taught me, “Read not to contradict and confute, not to believe and take for granted, not to find talk and discourse, but to weigh and consider.” An “I don’t know” sows apathy or prejudice.
I read so that a world—not just this one—comes alive for Anna: people jump off the page, colors shimmer with texture, and sounds vibrate with meaning. Fish can talk, and furry monsters like green eggs and ham. An “I don’t know” smothers the imagination.
I read because many times other people’s thoughts are better than my own. Before Anna graced our lives, I was devouring books and websites on parenting. Some people told me, “You do not learn parenting from books.” But I thought, “Neither can I learn it from ignorance.” While mothering does require instinct and intuition, an “I don’t know” hints at hubris.
I read to find my way and to know the direction Anna should go. For my husband and me, the Bible is our first-stop resource. I read it now with a growing awareness of my and Anna’s need for a Savior and a gratitude for the undeserved mercy. An “I don’t know” echoes in eternity.
I know someday I will have to answer Anna with an “I don’t know.” On that day I pray I will have the time and the patience to add to my answer, “Let’s find out the answer together.” She and I will write down her question in a notebook I’ve created: Anna’s Book of Questions. Then perhaps on another day we will ask for help—from her Daddy, from family and friends, from books, from the Internet.
I understood early on: It takes a village to raise a mother. Mothers from all over the world, sharing their wisdom and experience in books and on websites, have helped me collect information and select what I need to help Anna and me and our peculiar temperaments.
Even Anna knows it. Last week she got off her chair and said, “Mommy, help Anna wash hands.” As I led her to the sink, she said, “Everybody needs help, right, Mommy?” Yes, sweetie, everybody needs help. Especially a mommy.