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The need to know

2014 February 5
by Rachel Turiel

Rose and I are in an outdoor public restroom, trying to take care of business without pondering too deeply the dark, wet stain on the concrete floor. Rose is singing cheerily in an invented language she calls Spanish, though it sounds more like something chickens might speak in private. She gets quiet, her eyes wandering through the graffiti sharpied across the cinderblock walls like we’re at the hallowed museum of outhouse art.

“Who drew that picture?” Rose asks about a sketch of a woman smoking, her eyes at half mast. “Do you think a teenager drew it? Who is that lady? Does she like smoking? Is she falling asleep? Do you think she’s happy?” Before I can answer, the yarn of her questions fully unravels, wrapping around our feet, tethering us here.


Rose has what I think of as a “Need to Know” personality. Information is a like a wide, swirling storm; if you don’t stand outside with your mouth open in receiving mode, you’re sure to miss something crucial. Rose wakes up every morning and slides an empty tray under the door of my consciousness, expecting it returned brimming with answers.

“What’s her name?” Rose asks in a voice reserved for deaf grandmas, about the woman I just greeted but whose name I can’t remember. Embarrassment blooms like a tulip in the suddenly quiet room. “Why can’t you remember her name? Do you like her? Does she have any kids? Do her kids look like me?” Sometimes it feels like Rose is simply dangling the extrovert’s fishing line: I am acknowledged, therefore I am.


“It’s wonderful that she’s so curious,” my mom says in that magnanimous, slightly removed way of grandparents who aren’t awoken at 6am with questions unspooling into the darkness of morning.

And it is wonderful. Right? To be so curious that questions trip over themselves just to launch off your tongue, even if we’re in the women’s locker room, and she’s asking in her stage voice, “Did you know some girls wear undies that are ACTUALLY JUST STRINGS?”


There are the sticky questions that require dissection with moral tweezers: Is it bad that they have a mean sticker about Obama on their car? There are the anxious questions: Are you going to talk to anyone at the store? And, the unanswerable questions, the questions that turn your brain inside out and leave you with blinking cartoon-character X’s across the eyeballs. Rose asks, “Does Beehead (our cat) know we’re having dinner right now?” “What did we do the day after yesterday?” “When is Piano Man coming on the radio?” My mind revs and sputters.

It’s also true that the question mark doesn’t fall far from the tree. My own conversational style has been called “probing.” I deeply trust the power of a well-placed question. Last week, a friend asked me such thoughtful questions about a current writing project that my own unexpected answers became a beacon lighting the way towards my next step. Perhaps someday Rose will be a life coach, therapist, investigative reporter, detective, or writer, her astute questions unravelling whole worlds of insights for the benefit of others.


Putting inquisitiveness to work: This letter is to Dan’s Aunt Roberta, asking questions about Dan’s dad, the grandpa they’ll never meet.

“What do you think?” I lob back to Rose in the suspect bathroom.

“I think the lady’s happy. I can tell by her eyelashes.”

Rose returns to her Spanish chicken-song, adding a kicky little dance step. I fold her small hand into my big one and we walk out into the bright sun.

ps: this is a great blog post on the art of asking good questions.

22 Responses leave one →
  1. Ellen permalink
    February 5, 2014

    What a special girl! So interested in people and how they work.
    And what a lovely, hilarious post.
    Thank you.

  2. Baba permalink
    February 6, 2014

    Funny blog but it is great that you try to answer the difficult questions like “what did we do the day after yesterday ?” better than saying “because” which was the answer I got because I asked too many question. At least that is the story I got from my oldest brother.

  3. February 6, 2014

    Oh, I love the way you describe this! I felt like I was in the public restroom with you and Rose. And this drawing is almost visible to me – partly thanks to Rose’s answer :o)

    I do relate to your spinning mind, dear Rachel, since I always find unanswerable questions to be quite stressful, as if I was personally responsible of providing the answer. From “Where is the book that is supposed to have been set aside for me last week?” to “Do you think he loves me?”

    But it seems that Rose is finding her pleasure as much in asking as in receiving answers. Plus you do get a delightful, if constant, insight of her preoccupations :o)

    • Rachel Turiel permalink
      February 6, 2014

      We must have been channeling Emmanuelle’s art appreciation in that bathroom.

  4. shadymama permalink
    February 6, 2014

    woof. just *reading* that post got my brain all spinny –
    for what it’s worth, though, i think yer connection between yer own propensity for deep questioning and rosie’s blooming curiosity is a great one; you taught me the art of truly listening through yer brilliant question-asking and i’m thinking there’s a good chance the people in adult rosie’s life will be touched/changed/opened up in much of the same way –
    awesome possibility, yes?

  5. Becky permalink
    February 6, 2014

    How interesting to visit a rest room through the eyes of Rose. Things we just glance at and go on she takes the time to wonder and question. How special she is. Perhaps I need to slow down and take note. Thank you for sharing

  6. Molly permalink
    February 6, 2014

    I think they know we don’t know. And sometimes they want to know, and sometimes they want us to pay attention to them. I recently tried just looking at my girl for a long time, keeping my eyes on her during a meal (in a friendly way) when she was doing a lot of verbal and nonverbal requests for focus on her. No running for the ketchup or choosing topics of my own for conversation. She seemed pleased with that. Lately I’ve felt I should keep a list of the harder questions for later youtube-ing.

    I wonder if we should look at Lemony Snicket’s “All the Wrong Questions” series. There was a wonderful interview on NPR with the author that referenced the stumpifying questions his kid asked him. Not sure what book(s) it was in the context of.

    • Rachel Turiel permalink
      February 6, 2014

      “I think they know we don’t know. And sometimes they want to know, and sometimes they want us to pay attention to them.”

      Yes. AND sometimes they know that we know and they just want the reassurance of repetition of known things. It’s like a lullaby for anxiety.

  7. Andrea permalink
    February 6, 2014

    i think we should do a kid swap.
    i can take a turn answering said questions.
    and you could take a turn asking all the questions, with minimal reply.

    kids. blessed little weirdos.
    just like the rest of us!!

    • Rachel Turiel permalink
      February 6, 2014

      Let’s get the two together and see if Rose can pry some answers from Wyatt. If not, there’s always non-verbal legos with Col. xo

      • Andrea permalink
        February 6, 2014

        i think it would go like this:
        wyatt+col=non verbal legos
        you=nap, work, date with dan, whatever.

        now, if we could just figure out the 1500 miles.

  8. nan permalink
    February 6, 2014

    Please forgive my bad writing skills , english is my third language. I love the way you write , I love the way you love your family. Your blog is the first one I want to read , you open my mind in a very good way. Thank-you ! You are an amazing down to earth person, I wish you were my neighbour. And your kids and husband are adorable. Thank-you for being such a positive thoughtful part of my day. And, parenting is hard, you and your husband are doing “a great job.

  9. February 7, 2014

    I agree with you, Nan (by the way, your comment was eloquent). This post was written so beautifully. I loved picturing Rosie’s (and my own children’s) questions like unspooling yarn. And those public bathroom conversations we all have but never put to words quite like this… Thanks again, Rachel.

  10. Amber Lena permalink
    February 7, 2014

    Its uncanny how similar my two little girls are to Rose, down to the long legs. They ask me so many questions that some days I feel as though my head will explode. But I need to remember that most of the time, they just need my audience…

  11. nan permalink
    February 7, 2014

    Rachele, you are very welcome. Tricia , thank- you for your kind words.

  12. Rachel permalink
    February 8, 2014

    “Some girls wear undies that are actually just strings!” Ahahahaha!! That was my daughter’s reaction exactly when I fished a (not worn since before kids) thong out of my drawer due of sheer necessity, as I am the world’s worst laundry-doer. Kids are the greatest.

  13. Edward Oak permalink
    February 9, 2014

    Well, Rose reminds me a lot of myself, being the questioning, curious, extrovert that I am. Good to reflect on the asking of questions and when they open up one’s world view and heart, when they’re banal blather. Looking at her letter, I’d say Rose is way in tune with the former.

  14. February 20, 2014

    Man you can write your ass off. Oy vey.

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