I'm deep into the "Why?" phase of my young's son life and I'm loving every minute of it. Every time he poses that magical question I learn either something about my own perspective on the world or something about the way we ask each other to follow made-up rules. Sometimes I learn both.
In many cases it's about my personal preferences; I'm imposing my own fears and beliefs onto my son and indirectly suggesting that he adopt them for himself. I tell him not to do such-and-such thing, like: Don't put glue on your hands. Don't crawl under that old log. Don't put avocado in your milk. He then responds with his earnest "Why?" and I'm left trying to explain why sticky is bad, why bugs are gross, and why certain flavors should never be mixed. That's when I start to feel ridiculous and a little bit ashamed. All I'm really saying is "I wouldn't do that" and assuming that because I wouldn't do it that he shouldn't either. There's no fundamental truth in it, so why am I perpetuating my own fears and limitations? I might be a purist who is afraid of spiders and who prefers clean hands, but that doesn't mean that my son has to be.
Other times I say things to him that I don't even believe myself, like "Don't shake your head too much, you'll get dizzy." I don't actually care at all or think that dizzy is bad, but the words just come out. Something inside arbitrarily declares, like an involuntary reflex: do this and don't do that. Fortunately my son poses his usual "Why?" to which, after a quick pause of reflection, I have no choice but to respond "I don't know, sorry. Keep shaking your head."
What I am realizing now is that we all have these voices inside that are making up rules and limitations every day, sometimes for our children and sometimes for ourselves. There's a part of us that always wants to govern the moment, even when it's simple. We make up rules; we let past experiences restrict new ones; we forget to revisit and revise the boundaries that we had previously set on our lives. As a parent it's easy to remember that you want your child to craft their own path and their own preferences; it's much harder to remember that you want the same for yourself and that to do so means to be free from all the old rules that you made up.
There's a natural freedom in admitting that we don't know why an octopus has eight legs instead of ten. The unexpected freedom is that of asking "Why wouldn't I do that?" and "Why isn't that okay?" before putting up arbitrary obstacles that stunt the way both my son and I can grow. We could all use a steady dose of "Why?"; I'm all in. Are you?