FLINT - Fifteen years ago, I wrote a column about our 3-year-old son Sam and his fondness for the word "why."
Actually, fondness isn't the correct word. Obsession is more like it. The kid would ask why for everything. If I said it was time for bed, he would say "Why?" If I said, "Because you need your sleep" he would say "Why?" And if I patiently explained that human beings have a little understood biological imperative to sleep, he would blink and say "Why?" Usually at that point I'd turn the tables and ask him why he asked why all the time, to which he'd respond "Why?" And then I'd think nasty thoughts.
At the time I wrote: "We are told this is a stage and there will come a time when he doesn't say why every 16 seconds. We are also told there is a stage ahead when his verbal skills will, in fact, regress and he will become so silent and uncommunicative that we will begin to wonder if his vocal cords have been removed. This wondrous stage is apparently called the teenage years. Frankly, we can't wait."
We were wrong. We could have waited longer. Like forever. Here is an entire conversation I had recently with Sam, who is now 18:
Me: "Hey, sport, whatcha doing?"
Me: "Wanna go to the store with me?"
Me: "What do you mean you don't know? If you don't know who's going to know?"
Me: "C'mon, I'll buy you an ice cream sandwich, just like old times."
Me: "Is that a yes or a no?"
And that was a talkative day. I counted the words he used during a recent 24-hour span. Four. They were, and I quote, "Urrm," "Ahno," "Rrrr" and "Uh-huh." I realize those are not technically words, which is why, for parents of impending teenagers, I have compiled the following glossary:
Urrm - This seems to mean that the teen in question is acknowledging that you spoke to him but he isn't awake or engaged enough to formulate a more definitive response.
Ahno - A severe squishing together of the words I, don't and know. It means "I don't wish to commit to whatever it is you or anyone else thinks I should do." A lack of commitment is, ironically enough, one of the few things teens are committed to.
Rrrr - This is the only sound I've ever heard Sam utter before 11 a.m. I think it means, "Awake hurts."
Uh-huh - This is what he says when the subject of whether he wants food comes up.
Admittedly, his vocabulary is limited for a caveman much less a kid with 13 years of schooling. But I can't say I didn't get my wish. This stage, too, shall pass, of course, or so other parents of teens tell me. Someday in the not-too-distant future he'll probably have a 3-year-old himself who constantly asks "Why?" At that point, I imagine Sam will turn to me and say, "God, all that why, why, why stuff drives me nuts. I hope he grows out of it."
You know what I'll say in response, of course:
EDITOR'S NOTE - Andy Heller, an award-winning columnist for The Flint Journal, appears weekly in the Daily Press. He graduated from Escanaba Area High School in 1979. For more of his work, visit his blog at blog.mlive.com/flintjournal/aheller. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.