Tales of the World: Just Ask

When you are in school, teachers always tell you that there are no dumb questions, which is true to an extent. It’s not dumb to ask when the test is, how many moons Jupiter has, or what the difference between an alligator and a crocodile is. It is, however, dumb to ask what the capital of Africa is.

I am overcoming a lifelong timidity towards asking for things. Unfortunately, I feel like a lot of the questions I ask are dumb and not worthwhile. I’m getting over it, but I want Miss C to seldom feel self conscious when she raises a question or asks for something. I promise to raise a child who is well enough equipped with basic information to not have to ask how many arms an octopus has if the world also promises to listen to her when she questions it. I want her to know that even if she gets turned down for a request, she was not dumb to ask. I want her to know that I am willing to surprise her when she asks me if she can have permission to do things. B and I likely won’t let her get her ears pierced before she’s 12 or stay out past eleven when she’s 16, but we will probably say yes to things that she expects us to shoot down. You’ve gotta keep your kids on their toes and surprise them with your coolness occasionally.

When I was a teenager, I was obsessed with the Smashing Pumpkins. My entire life was built around them. Most of my money went towards buying European b-side releases and tradeshow posters of them. I LOVED them, and I still do.

This picture of my room when I was a teenager doesn’t really have anything to do with this post, but it is pretty hilarious, so I thought I would tack it in.

In 1995, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness was released. I hate to say it was epic, but check the definition. Over two hours long, it was actually epic. I asked my parents if I could go to the concert when the Pumpkins’ tour visited Memphis. The concert was on a school night, so I expected a no. I expected correctly. My plea was vetoed. This turned out OK because Billy Corgan allegedly ended the concert early because he was angry and a rockstar and he did stuff like that, apparently.

1998 rolls around. I was then 16, highly motivated, and more in love with the Pumpkins than ever. I checked their touring schedule on this thing called the Internet that we had in our house, which, incidentally, was created for the sole purpose of uploading and printing pictures of Billy Corgan for free. This time around, the Smashing Pumpkins would not be touring in Memphis but they would be making a stop in Nashville, which was about a three hour drive away.

I fully expected to get a big fat no again when I asked my parents if they would let me go. In addition to going to the concert which, let’s face it, THEY would buy my ticket for, they’d also have to drive me there and get a hotel room for the night. My parents weren’t fuddy duddies, but there’s only so much you can expect of people who often spoke of their love of the Carpenters back in the 70s.

But I asked. I just asked.

And my mom said yes.

I was really shocked when she agreed to take me and Besfrinn Cameron, but I didn’t question it. She bought our tickets – that’s right, our tickets; she attended the show with us because she’s that surprisingly cool – drove us there, and put all three of us up in a hotel for the night. All because I had the nerve to ask. She sat next to Cameron and me as we screamed every lyric, as we laughed at every droll joke James Iha made between songs, and humored us as we gushed about the show.

Me and Cameron pre-show. We were so cool.

Aaaand post-show. Apparently, I had just received news that all the kittehs just died.

She said no to many more of my schemes over the years, but occasionally she said yes to the things that meant a lot to me. The lesson for Miss C is twofold: 1, parents are cooler than you will I’ve them credit for, and 2, asking is worth it.

I’m making it a priority to raise C with the knowledge that she can ask. Even though we won’t always say yes or give her the answer she wants, we won’t ever laugh at her questions or make light of them. Doing so is finding that balance in parenthood where, even though you’re not the child’s friend, you are her ally and her guide.

My ally. My mom. She put up with me as a teenager so she wins.

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60 comments

  1. There are no stupid questions, just stupid people and it’s up to you how smart your little girl is going to be. :)

    No offense, but us Europeans often face this sort of stupidity with people from the United States. Things like: “Isn’t Amsterdam that country next to The Netherlands?”, “Paris, isn’t that the capital of Europe?”, “Bulgaria? That’s probably somewhere in Russia”, “Hitler? He was a football coach, right?”

    I mean, wOw – that’s right, a capital O!

    There’s nothing wrong with not knowing something, but there’s such a thing as basic knowledge, and if you don’t know something, just say: “Amsterdam? Where’s that?”, because saying where you think it is, now THAT’S stupid.

    If anything, you should learn your child the value of asking questions and the value of learning. I think it’s better to ask a question, than to come up with the answer yourself.

    1. No offense taken whatsoever. Americans often do little to improve their image all over the world. In my travels, it has always been Americans who act like idiots. In Korea, it was America teenagers I saw who were yelling to their parents across the courtyard of a Buddhist monastery. In Iceland, it was Americans I saw who were acting like imbeciles at a natural thermal bath. On a flight to Russia, it was Americans I saw who were making themselves look stupid by making fun of the Russian language. Such a proud group of people we are.

  2. There’s no such thing as a stupid question only stupid answers. It never hurts to ask. At best you will gain a little knowledge at worst you might feel like an idiot – for about a minute. And that’s a valuable life experience too

    1. Very, very true. But I still stand by my statement that asking what the capital of Africa is, is a dumb question ;D

  3. A great lesson for Miss C. I loved the Smashing Pumpkins too, but I never saw them in concert. I wanted to go see a Guns N Roses/Metallica concert in high school and got shot down so I admire your mom’s coolness! I did get to see STP (couldn’t help noticing your poster) here in Austin about a decade ago, and that remains one of the best live shows I’ve seen so far.

    1. Whatever happened to STP? I loved them when I was a teenager! Such fun, cool music.

  4. First things first, LOVE the pictures. The room – it’s rich. I think the Miss C apple didn’t fall far from the pretty mommy tree. :)
    Next, what a great post!! I’m a big question asker and feel strongly that the person receiving the question should always make an effort to make it safe for the person asking. I gather a lot of my information and understanding of people by asking questions, turning things inside out and upside down, all for understanding sake. That’s my objective, to understand. When I’m met with anger or am made to feel foolish for asking, I get hurt. When you ask a question you’re making yourself vulnerable. The person receiving has a responsibility to help in a patient and understanding way. I know with my kids I was very open and willing to listen and understand all of their questions and as a result they always knew they could come to me and they always did. I never shot them down, never was sarcastic or diminished them in anyway. I’ve always encouraged my kids to ask questions where ever they go.
    I think creating emotional safety for your kids is of the utmost importance. Feeling safe with people and trusting that they know your character and will treat you with kindness is ALL important to me. :)
    Thanks for this!
    Have a great weekend, Emily!
    Lisa

    1. Lisa, you have said far more eloquently what I wanted to say in this post. Creating that place of safety and full disclosure with C is so important to me. I don’t ever want her to feel ashamed or dumb for not understanding something, and I want to be able to foster an environment of openness with her. This is so much more honest and loving, I think.

      I’m so grateful for you for sharing your experiences as a parent who’s already been through all this. Your comments are always so thoughtful and kind.

  5. I love this post! Your teen years are so much like mine were- we’d probably have been besties wearing our giant baggie pants and concert t-shirts together. I feel you on the timid questioning. As I’ve gotten older, it’s gotten easier, but there are times I’d rather curl up in a ball than ask for something. I’m sure you’ll impart great things to your kid- how could you not? Early exposure to Melon Collie and the Infinite Sadness can’t help but have awesome effects (or is it affects? I think it’s effects, but those bastards dog me to this day. Pfft. Grammar.)

    1. It’s such a great album! I always geek out whenever I listen to it. There is a lullaby-ish track at the end of the album that, years and years ago, I used to think about singing for my children. When my daughter was born I would hum it to her. The whole full-circleness of it was a bit mind-blowing.

      1. My BFF got a whole CD of Smashing Pumpkins tunes done lullaby style when my “nephew” was born. I can still hear “Today” played on the xylophone!

  6. Miss C has the coolest Mom & Dad ever !! Beautiful post.

    1. We are pretty groovy, eh? ;D

  7. I can’t tell you how many times as a teen (also in the 90s, but obsessed with Nirvana) I didn’t ask my parents something because I KNEW they were going to say no. Looking back, they probably would have said yes at least a handful of times. It’s weird because as a grown up, I don’t mind speaking my mind or asking for anything, but it took me a long time to get to that point. I hope I remember this when my own kids come along!

    Miss C will certainly feel secure and confident enough to ask (and dream and imagine) with parents like you!

    1. I think there’s a big place for “no” and for shutting your kid down when they want something random, but it’s got to be used tactfully. If you say no OR yes all the time, I don’t think kids feel a lot of security. It’s a challenge finding that balance, and C isn’t even talking yet! At least we have plenty of time to perfect our methods. Thanks, Rachel!

  8. I often tell my kids to “please ask me something I can say ‘yes’ to.” At their ages, they know when “no” is coming, but they can’t resist asking anyway. Sometimes, I say “yes” just to see them stop mid-next argumental point as they realize I’ve said “yes.” Gotta keep ‘em on their toes.

    I’ve never listened to the Pumpkins, which may be a surprise as I am from Chicago. My son, though, assures me that Billy Corgan is a douche, so I’m thinking it might be time to check them out.

    1. Yep, he is reportedly quite a douche, but he’s a douche who makes some great music. And I think he produces a lot of local wrestling shows in Chicago. So random.

      1. He just opened a very pretentious tea house on the north shore.

        1. So I’ve heard! You’ll have to check it out for me and tell me what you think.

  9. I used to love Smashing Pumpkins, but Billy Corgan’s bad attitude over the years has really left a sour taste in my mouth.

    As someone who has struggled her whole life with not wanting to ask for things, I can totally relate to this post. Like you, I’m also trying to get over that and occasionally put myself out there.

    1. Ol’ Billy has done some irreparable harm to his own personna over the years by hanging around towards the douche end of the spectrum, but what can I say? I love the 90s Pumpkins. He seems to have finally lightened up now that he’s getting older. He produces local wrestling shows in Chicago, which is kind of awesome and bizarre at the same time.

  10. krugthethinker · · Reply

    Ahhh, I am dying of the awesome! The caboodle of angsty makeup! Those nail polished shoes! Didn’t we dye our hair too? And, of course, our complete certainty that we were going to be the coolest people there! Your mom is truly the best. Good times, Besfrinn, good times.

    1. THE NAIL POLISH SHOES. OMG do you still have those? I feel that those should be in an exhibit at the museum of our friendship.

      1. krugthethinker · · Reply

        I love you :) I think those shoes might still be in the closet somewhere in our house. Yes! A museum of our friendship!

  11. I totally support always asking questions – even things like how many legs an OCTOpus has – because you can still point out how prefixes work and it will stick with your kid instead of just saying “8” and not going further. Granted, my kid asks about everything and it sometimes makes me crazy – but it’s worth it when you see how their critical thinking develops :)

    I think Africa was a country yesterday :)

    1. That’s a really good point about making every question a teaching moment! I take back what I said about octopuses. Or is it octopi? Care to answer that one for me? :D

      1. plural: octopuses, octopi, or octopodes! I like OCTOPI~

    1. There are so many more where those came from!

  12. “Apparently, I had just received news that all the kittehs just died.”—That one gave me a good laugh. :) At least you were a cute teenager. Sadly, I can’t say the same…

    1. Those pictures were strategically chosen for their cuteness factor. The vast majority are straight-up scary.

  13. This was so sweet. Mom’s can be cool…and you will be too.

    1. Thanks! I hope I’m cool. Alas, most of my hopes are dashed in the wind, but a girl can dream.

  14. I love the Leonardo Dicaprio picture on your bedroom wall.

    I had a similar relationship with my parents. I never felt like I deserved to be able to do things but at this point there isn’t much I’d want to do anyway. It’s great you actually got to see them when they were cool. Some people say I look like Billy Corgan when I shave my head. Those same people also don’t have jobs and smoke pot all day. I look nothing like him.

    In the future I see Miss C testing your concert boundaries. What music will she be into I wonder. Probably weird futuristic gong sounds or whatever. Aren’t the Wild Stallions supposed to save the universe?

    1. Leonardo DiCaprio was a fixture when I was a teenager. He doesn’t look, ahem, too bad. Although I’ve never met you, I don’t see the resemblance of you and Billy Corgan. I still stand behind my statement that you are more of a Michael Cera type.

  15. As the child of a mother who said no to just about everything, I can relate to the not wanting to ask thing. I still tend to be like that at work, even though most people are more likely to say yes to thins than my mother. :) I was also obsessed with many bands, it’s kind of sad how you grow out of that as you get older. (usually)

    1. It is sad! When you’re a kid, it’s so comforting to get lost in music like that. I guess I’m obsessed now with blogging, but it’s not nearly as emotional as being obsessed with music.

  16. Awesome story!
    I have a similar experience, when my boyfriend (now fiance) and his friends were planning a trip to Europe, and I just assumed I wouldn’t be able to go – until I asked.
    Parents are cool sometimes (but don’t tell them I said that).

    1. Your secret is safe with me. I will probably always tell C that I’m not cool just because she may think the opposite out of spite.

      1. Sounds like a plan.

  17. Oh yeah, and – *LEO!!!!!*

    1. I KNOW. This is him in his Romeo and Juliet era. SWOON. He’s still nothing to sniff at now, though. I feel like the more weight he puts on, the yummier he is.

      1. More flesh to grab onto….more squishies to poke…

  18. Teresa Pate · · Reply

    Actually, YOU asked me NOT to sit near you and the B’friend at the Pumpkins concert. I skittered off to the sidelines and sat with other parents who were counting the minutes….and also enjoying our kiddos having fun.
    Dad and I knew it was important to you to go to the concert. I went to see the Dave Clark Five, Moody Blues, The Eagles, Little River Band, Jimmy Buffet, ZZ Tops and many more 300 or so years ago. Glad I made it to the Pumpkins. :)

    P.S. Remember NKOB?
    Mom

    1. Do I ever remember them! The year Santa gave me the video of the New Kids live in Boston was the best year ever!

  19. Teresa Pate · · Reply

    Hey, What’s the black spot on your Mom’s face?

    1. I was wondering the same thing…

  20. My favourite thing about this post? The photo of your old bedroom. Your coolness rating just doubled.

    1. Sixteen year old me thanks you.

      1. I was big on the whole PJ&Duncan/Backstreet Boys/Jesse from Free Willy scene. Those were my posters. O, and a randomly placed one of Phoebe from Friends, if I remember rightly.

      2. I was big on the whole PJ&Duncan/Backstreet Boys/Jesse from Free Willy scene. Those were my posters. O, and a randomly placed one of Phoebe from Friends, if I remember rightly.

  21. You know, sometimes the kids DO ask stupid questions…like “Why can’t we walk on the road instead of the sidewalk?” Or “Can we put LB in the washing machine?” I think they do it on purpose, but we never say “That’s a stupid question,” although the urge is there…

    1. Froggert has the same aversion to the washing machine. Unfortunately, now that C is in her oral phase, it’s a necessary evil.

      1. OMG, has he been in it??

        1. A couple times. He gives us the silent treatment for a few days afterwards.

  22. What a lovely role model. And a totally kick ass room. My room was covered in daisies and picture of rottweilers (sp?). I don’t think I even understand high school me.

    1. Hahaha! Daisies and Rottweilers would make a good Tumblr.

  23. Raise her with self-confidence, and she’ll never have the question problem!

    Closest I’ve come to the concert story is buying my girl tickets to see Pink. And going to the show with her. Because sometimes, love demands sacrifice.
    Sigh.

    1. Wow, now that’s sacrifice. I once took my mom to a James Taylor concert for her birthday when I was in college. It was excruciating because I was young and didn’t know how to spot good music when I heard it.

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