“I haven’t seen the hummingbird in a long time!” my 4 year old shouted at dinner a few weeks ago.  It is February, and we live in Michigan, so he was right, it had been months since the hummingbird visited our yard.  

I was several minutes into a description of migration, and migratory birds, and why some birds (like hummingbirds) migrate, while others (like cardinals) continue to poop on my grill even during the coldest days of winter, when I noticed that my son’s eyes were glazing over.  I knew he wasn’t listening and despite the fact that I was not qualified to discuss the subject beyond “fly south for winter,” I soldiered on. This was important information I was sharing, It might come up in his preschool class on Monday when he has an animal cracker shaped like a bird, and, God forbid, that my kid doesn’t know this… “Are you still listening?” I asked him, a little exasperated.  “I just meant mommy’s tattoo” he responded (she has a cute little hummingbird on her foot).

I was answering a question he didn’t ask me, and providing more detail than was necessary.  I didn’t ask clarifying questions, and I didn’t respect what he was telling me with his non-verbals.  I took my insecurity (How have I not taught my 4 year old about migration patterns yet?! Oh my goodness, I am a terrible father!  Where did I go wrong??) and tried to hide it by positioning myself as an expert, not only on hummingbirds specifically, but also on the ornithological miracle that is migration, and for a brief moment I was John James Audubon.  

My son asks a lot of questions, and while it can be frustrating sometimes, it is also something that my wife and I support and encourage.  I want him to keep asking questions, I want him to keep learning, I want him ask clarifying questions, and I want to be a better model of that.  

While expertise can kill a conversation, the willingness and ability to ask questions is what they truly thrive on.  

Matt Matthews