Friday, August 7, 2015

The Big Questions Begin

Children come into this world ignorant.  And what a beautiful thing!  Ignorant of war and prejudice and pain and death and all of the yucky parts of being alive.  If they are lucky, they are in a world of family and fairies and forever.

Slowly but surely, reality creeps in.  Shots at the doctor.  Mean kids on the playground.  Being left with a babysitter.  Wondering how the baby in mommy's tummy actually gets out, or what would happen if an airplane's engine stopped working mid-flight.  Pain, shame, abandonment, curiosity, fear.  It comes gradually, but it comes early.  And as my six year old has become more aware, the questions have begun.

The innocence of these questions tugs at my heart.

Last year he asked why it is that some people have "brown" skin and some people have "yellow" skin.  And why it is that some people's mommies and daddies live in two different houses.  And why some kids have two mommies, or two daddies.

These questions are typical, and I tried to answer them in a simplistic, honest way.  People have different skin colors just like people have different hair colors.  Sometimes mommies and daddies decide they don't want to live together anymore and that's okay.  And some girls marry girls, some boys marry boys, and some girls marry boys.  Anyone can be parents.

But the death questions tend to trip me up.

Braden didn't start asking about death until about a year ago, when my mother's 20 year old poodle, Snowey, died.  I was honest with the kids that she died, but it wasn't until I told them that I realized Braden didn't even know what death was.

You mean, she's never coming back?  Where is she? What if we want to play with her again?  Why did she die? 

If I were a religious person, this would be easier.  I would love to tell my son that Snowey went to doggy heaven and she is prancing around happy and we'd all see her again someday.  But I don't know that - not for sure, anyway.  So I told him what I knew.

No, she's never coming back.  Her body is in the ground, and she died because she was very, very old.  But we will always remember her and she will live forever in our hearts.

It wasn't until a couple of days later that Braden put two and two together.

Does everyone die?  Will you die?  Will I die?  When?  But mommy, I'll miss you so much!

The look on Braden's face when he learned the truth was heartbreaking.  Life is tragic.  I forget that sometimes.

That was a year or so ago.  Then, two nights ago, out of nowhere, Braden, now a bit more sophisticated, made a confession.

Mommy, sometimes I can't sleep because I am worried about you dying.  I don't want you to die. Why do you have to die?  

It's times like these that I want to hit the pause button and go consult an expert or a book so that I can give the right answer.  The answer that will bring him peace.  That will alleviate his anxiety. That will let him down easy.  That will keep him in his fantasy world a bit longer.

I cupped his head in my hands.  I told him that it's normal to be scared about these things, but that it's important not to let fear and worry take us over.  That the most important thing is enjoying each day, and that this was a great day, right?  And that hopefully, I won't die for a long, long time, and that by the time I do, he won't need me like he does now.  That he'll have a family of his own.  And that everything will be okay.

Then I tucked him in and rounded the corner to my bedroom and sobbed.

I don't contemplate my death often.  Does anyone?  But my attitude about death has definitely shifted.  Prior to having children, I didn't want to die for selfish reasons.  I didn't want to die because I wanted to live.  Simple.  But now, it's different.  The stakes are higher.  I don't want to die because I don't want to leave my children without a mother.  I don't want to leave them until it is the absolutely right time - until they are settled and happy and they don't need me anymore.  If nothing else, I find myself praying to at least make it until the youngest one turns 18.  Until they are out of the house and my job is done.  Hopefully, I will have much more time.  But at a minimum, just give me that.

The fact that I can't make Braden this promise is both terrifying and heartbreaking.

I finished my cry and I wanted to go back into Braden's room and hold him tight.  I wanted to tell him I was sorry for how the world is and how life is and how it's all unpredictable and unfair.  But I didn't. Because that's all a bit too deep for a six year old.  For now, everyone lives to be 100.

As my kids get older, the world will unfold for them more and more.  Harsh realities will flood in, tragedies will occur, and they will learn how to cope, and enjoy life at the same time.  I'm still learning to do that myself.  Aren't all of us?

In the meantime, I am taking my own advice.

All we have is today.  Enjoy today.  It's a great day!

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  1. Very powerful and thought-provoking. My almost-six-year-old son has started asking about death recently too. I tell him that I do not plan on dying for a very long time. The other day he asked me how I hug my dad since he is in heaven and we cannot see him. My dad passed away almost 4 years ago and so I almost started crying, but I just told him I hug myself and send the hug up to heaven. I do not know if my dad can see me from heaven, which I do believe in, but it seems to help him. The reality and permanence of death will come soon enough so for now, even if I am not sure of when I will go or whether heaven is what we think and hope it is, at least I can give him a little comfort.

  2. I tell mine that death is probably okay. We go into the ground or air and turn into flowers and other living things, and help make air and water clean. We become something else. Nothing is ever lost really, and, yes, make the best of what you have now, and something else will come later. I also haven't said this, but I think Steve Jobs said how basically death is a good thing in the sense that it makes space for new things, people, ideas...


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