by Mike Todd

Sometimes, all you want to do is hurl yourself down a flight of stairs, especially if you’re a toddler.  You’ll find that despite your best efforts, though, something often gets in your way. In our house, that thing is a baby gate.

“Mommy and Daddy can open the gate. Only Evan can’t open it,” our son Evan complained last week, dragging his tin cup back-and-forth against the bars while playing a mournful blues riff on the harmonica. Evan likes to speak of himself in the third person, like former presidential candidate Herman Cain. That’s pretty much where their similarities end, though. Evan still has a shot at being president.

“Well, Memphis can’t open the gate, either,” I said, trying to make Evan feel better.

“Why?” he asked.

“Because she doesn’t have hands,” I said.

“Why?” he asked.

“Because she’s a dog,” I said.

“Why?” he asked.  In computer programming, this type of situation is called an infinite loop. We find ourselves looping quite often these days, ever since we plunged into the Age of Why, which began several months ago. By the time you get three or four whys deep, the answers are no longer so obvious.  Why is our dog a dog? I hadn’t pondered that one before.

After a moment, I figured out the answer.

“Because her parents were dogs,” I replied.

“Oh,” Evan said, nodding, the matter settled.

When you have a child who asks why you wear pants, why he should give you a hug and why it’s bad to smear strawberry jam in your hair, you have to resist the urge to try to exit the loop by saying “because” to end the interrogation. Once you start answering questions with “because,” that’s the only answer you’ll ever get in return.

“Did you have fun at daycare today?” you’ll ask.

“Because,” he’ll reply.

So you do your best to answer the never-ending one-word questions, even though you slept through several relevant classes in high school that you wish you could have back.

“Buddy, don’t clutch that piece of chocolate for the entire ride home. Either eat it or set it down beside you,” I said last week. Evan has a habit of squeezing candy until it becomes welded to his hand, and then you need industrial solvent and a belt sander to clean him off.

“Why?” he asked.

“Because it’s going to melt in your hand,” I said.

“Why?” he asked.

“Because your hand is warmer than the chocolate, so the heat, uh, moves from your hand into the chocolate. That’s how it works, right? Yes, the heat moves into the chocolate and turns it into a liquid.”

“Why?”

“Because the melting point of chocolate … did my old physics teacher put you up to this?  The heat in your hand causes the chocolate to cross its melting point.”

“Why?”

“I think it’s one of the laws of thermodynamics, maybe? Or diffusion? Maybe it has something to do with the periodic table,” I said, brought to my knees by a debate with a toddler.

“Why?” he asked. The questions never end. This must be how Socrates’ parents felt.

“Because I said so,” I said, ashamed for ending the conversation that way, but seeing no other way out of the loop. “Because I said so” is a phrase that would be organically invented millions of times a day by parents all over the world if it didn’t already exist. It’s like the self-drilling screws that I invented once, before I checked homedepot.com and saw that some jerk preemptively stole the idea I hadn’t had yet.