I Don’t Know

“Mommy, I don’t know.”

Martin said that this week, in a response to a question about a stuffed panda bear’s nose. The conversation ran like this:

“Martin, what color is Panda’s nose?”


“Silly! It doesn’t seem yellow to me. Look again?”

Martin hesitated, studying the panda’s nose, which had once been black but faded to some flecked gray that apparently defied description, at least for Martin. At last he said, “Mommy, I don’t know.”

Until now, when Martin didn’t have the answer to a question, he would resort to echolalia and repeat the question: “Martin, what are you doing?” “What are you doing?” “Martin, where are we going?” “Where are we going?” For weeks I’ve been trying to get him to say instead, “I don’t know.”

It’s advanced, when you think about it. To say, “I don’t know,” is to (1) comprehend what the question seeks; (2) realize that it is capable of being answered (e.g., the question is not, “What time is that tree?”); (3) understand that, although an answer exists, you do not possess it; and (4) roll those concepts into a response. Saying, “I don’t know,” is a manner of implying absence: Knowledge of this matter exists; it is absent from my body of knowledge.

This week, Martin made that implication. Just once, I’m afraid. Later the same day, he answered a question with, “I don’t know,” when prompted: “Martin, where are your shoes?” “Where are your shoes?” “It’s okay to say if you don’t know, buddy.” “I don’t know.” He has not again admitted unprompted that he doesn’t know an answer.

But he will. That’s the way these new skills come, sometimes. Once, not again, a few times, an avalanche. So he will.

When? Oh, I don’t know.

4 thoughts on “I Don’t Know

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