By Bronwyn L. Emery
My daughter is starting to ask the hard questions, but thanks to the Internet, I think I’m ready for her.
You wouldn’t believe some of the great things I’ve learned. Whenever she asks a question, I feel it’s my responsibility to provide as much information as possible to satisfy her curiosity. I fantasize about having the perfect answer ready when she again asks that question I wasn’t prepared for last time. It’ll go a little like this:
“Funny you should ask that, sweetheart. It says here on the World Factbook website that ‘Native Kazakhs, a mix of Turkic and Mongol nomadic tribes who migrated into the region in the 13th century, were rarely united as a single nation. The area was conquered by Russia in the 18th century and Kazakhstan became a Soviet Republic in 1936.’ Interesting, don’t you think?”
“Yeah, I know, there’s no more USSR. Let’s see, it says they hoisted their flag June 6, 1992, after seceding from the former USSR. Look at the flag, it’s pretty; sky blue for the sky over the people – OK, that’s a no-brainer – and a golden steppe eagle flying under a shining sun. Hmmm. Check out the traditional national ornamentation along the left side.”
“Are you writing this down? The capital city is Astana and it snowed there Wednesday night, just lightly. Three degrees, can you imagine? And they share borders with Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan (are they joking? How drunk were they when they agreed on how to spell these places?), Turkmenistan (what, no Z’s?), Azerbaijan (that’s more like it), Iran and China, oh, and the Russian Federation. They’re on the Caspian Sea and the Aral Sea is also on their border. They call that a sea? It’s itty bitty.”
“Wait, wait, check this out: They’re like, 14 hours ahead of us over there. What does this mean, the climate is ‘continental’? I know a continental breakfast when I see it, and a continental shelf, but that’s out in the ocean and Kazakhstan is totally land-locked, unless you count the Caspian Sea, which I don’t really, since it probably doesn’t have a continental shelf, although you can’t quote me on that, it’s not like I’m a marine scientist or geologist or whatever.”
“Hold up, their money’s called Tenge and it doesn’t even convert to U.S. dollars on the WorldAtlas.com converter thingy. So what do you do if you want to go there and like, buy something?”
“This is interesting. Their median age, you know what that is, right? It’s 28.2 years old, 26.6 for men and 29.7 for women. Wow. Clubbing as an industry must be jumping off the wall. But their life expectancy is pretty low, 58.16 years for men and 69.06 for women (why are we always the ones left behind to clean up after others?).”
I turn to level a look at her. I’ve done all this research and she’s using that tone of voice with me? (It’s a pretty realistic scenario).
“I didn’t ask about Kazahkstan.”
“What? Well, OK. What was it, Kyrgyzstan? Just give me a minute…”
“Mom, I asked if you were a virgin when you married Dad.”
“Oops. Well, no time for that, I have to go make dinner. Help your brother color or something.”
For some reason, she thinks that communication goes both ways. I have no idea who taught her that. I don’t mind all the questions, but I had kind of thought she’d be, oh, I don’t know, 19 or 20 when she started asking those questions. I just don’t have it in me to tell her to wait till 35 to think about boys when I didn’t. I’m 33 with three kids and she’s good at math.
I knew I’d better get used to being honest even about mistakes and poor judgment when she was born and gave me that look, that eyeball message that said loud and clear, “I’m here and waiting for information and you’d just better not lie to me, mother-person.” Kids are like that, you know.
In theory, I embrace the opportunity to share my life experiences in a context that will help guide her into womanhood – I just want to do it all in my own time. Like, posthumously.
I bet if we lived in Kazakhstan the issue wouldn’t even come up. I could tell her I don’t speak Kazakh (Qazaq, state language) or Russian (official, used in everyday business, designated the “language of interethnic communication”). Well, I don’t – and that’s the truth.
This piece originally ran in the “Connections” column in the Tracy Press, Jan. 31, 2004, under Bronwyn Ashbaker.
Bronwyn L. Emery is a writer from Alameda, CA. Read more at www.toliveandwrite.org.