Embarrassing kid questions fall into two categories: the sort of question that makes you wish the floor would open up and swallow you, and the kind that are not in and of themselves embarrassing, but have the potential to be. One of my more noteworthy experiences of the first sort took place during a trip to the grocery store. I guess it was a bit chilly, because E started asking, "Mama, are those your nipples?" in a very loud voice while we waited in the check out line. (The floor did not accommodate my wishes on that particular occasion.) In a case like this, there isn't really anything you can do except distract, distract, distract, grit your teeth and get the hell out ASAP.
The second category is more problematic because the questions tend to be important ones. To really do your job as a parent, you shouldn't distract or ignore the questions, because these kinds of questions give you the opportunity to expose your child to different ways of living and different ideas. About a month ago we were in the city and passed a woman dressed in full hijab. E didn't notice her, but if he had, I wouldn't have been surprised if he'd pointed and asked in a voice better suited for shouting across the playground, "What is that lady wearing?" He just isn't exposed to this kind of diversity often enough to consider it normal, and so the only way for him to learn is to ask, even if I'm embarrassed in the asking. (Knowing my background, though, I'd be likely to launch into an extended lecture discussing the cultural meaning of her clothing and the context in which women make the choice to wear the hijab. Not exactly appropriate for a kid who isn't even three.)
There are so many interesting, exciting ideas that I want to share with E, different types of people and families and lifestyles that I want him to be exposed to, but the reality is in this town, he might not encounter a family with same sex parents, or a family from a drastically different culture, or someone who has a disability. The lack of diversity here means that more things will need explaining and more situations and people will seem "odd" to him, maybe even things about our own family - why we celebrate two faiths, why he is the only kid he knows without siblings. The challenge is to determine how to combine the simple explanation that adequately answers the question at hand with the complicated one that places the question in the larger context of a big, interesting world, all wrapped up in a tidy, toddler-friendly package.
If you have any thoughts or experiences about these issues, I would love it if you'd share them. Any suggestions about how to get my kid to stop talking about my nipples in the grocery line are welcome, too.
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