“How do you know that?”

Jess has the conversational style of an investigative journalist.

“It’s a nice day,” I’ll say, and she’ll respond, “What makes you say that?” I’ll point to the blue sky, and the shining sun, and she’ll nod, accepting the evidence I have presented.

“This is a great song,” I’ll say, but it’s not enough to express an opinion: I also have to defend it.

“Why do you like this song?” she’ll ask. I’ll say something about the melody, or the way the words evoke a certain emotion, and she’ll ask a series of follow-up questions, such as, “Why do the words make you smile?”

But her all-time favorite question has to be, “How do you know that?”

Friday, I took the car in for service, and I said to the mechanic, “I think it’s due for some new tires.”

Automatically, Jess asked, “How do you know that?”

“Because the tread looks pretty worn down,” I said.

“How do you know what the tread is supposed to look like?”

“Because I’ve seen new tires.”        

And the mechanic said, “I don’t have any tires in this particular size. What kind are you looking for? I can order them.”

I told him, and sighed, and turned to Jess and said, “That means I’ll have to come back next week.”

And she said, “How do you know that?”

And I said, “Because if he has to order them, he won’t get them today. It’s already lunchtime on a Friday.”

So the mechanic came back with a quote and Jess said to me, “Is that in the budget?” She is anxious for things to be in the budget, because if they are not in the budget, then that means something that is in the budget has to get cut, and that’s usually something we like.

“I knew how much they’d cost, so I planned for it,” I said.

“How did you know that?”

“Because I’ve bought tires before,”  I said. “And I checked prices on the Internet.”

And so it went, all day long, until finally when I said, “This is such a pretty street,” and Jess said, “How do you know that?” I pulled out my trump card, the phrase I use when I cannot answer “How do you know that?” one more time without bursting into tears, and I said, “Because fortunately I know everything.”

Usually that makes her giggle and stop asking for a while. Today, she gave me a look, and said, “Well,” and then, as if she were breaking it to me gently, “Maybe you don’t know everything.”

And I said, “Maybe,” although I was sorely tempted to ask, “How do you know that?”

And she smiled slightly, the smile I call her teenage smile, and she said, “But you do a pretty good job of trying.”


  1. It's rare for you to refer to your own stress, Jennifer, but it makes you so human. Thinking about Jess asking that question, I was trying to imagine not knowing all those things, not being able to figure out how you know them. It's a sobering thought. But you've made a good story from this, as you always do.

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