If anyone ever tells you that the blogosphere is void of real writers, then they obviously have never taken a gander at the beautiful, tightly-woven words of today’s very special guest blogger, Katia from I Am the Milk. I knew when I invited her to post here that whatever she came up with would be wonderful, but when I pre-read this piece about talking to young children about the concept of death, my breath was taken away. I am pretty sure you will love her as much as me. Be sure to follow her blog if you aren’t already.
You know how they say you should get a license to become a parent? Total BS, if you ask me. It’s not like any of us emerged from the womb talking to kids so they will listen and quoting Doctor Karp. And if some people are underqualified as parents, then wouldn’t that, by definition, imply that there are others out there who are overqualified? I have yet to meet an overqualified parent, with the possible exception of some mothers in law. Truth is we’ve all had to start this parenting gig from scratch. Sure, we might think that shadowing our parents for years prepared us, but gagging while watching them change a younger sibling’s diaper doesn’t really count. I’m talking hardcore here, like foregoing sleep as a thing, yet having to pretend that you’re completely sane when you show up at work every day. Like being expected to maintain said “sanity” despite the fact that you spend your days in some sort of a reversed Tom and Jerry scenario, constantly chasing around a little guy trying to save him from himself.
I have, however, at times, felt the devastating consequences of my lack of previous training as a parent. I’m sure you’ve experienced a moment of complete vegetation as a totally unexpected, out of the blue tantrum unfolded right in front of your eyes, starting with your four-year-old tossing his dripping toy penguin out of the bathtub after you’ve suggested they might want to use the magic word when communicating it’s your job to fix it. They then proceeded to throw a yellow ball pit ball at you in response, and before you had the time to recover from the shock and ask yourself “what IS a yellow ball pit ball doing in my bathtub?!” they pulled their tongue out at you while wrapping themselves in the inner shower curtain three times, tearing it in three different places while responding to any parenting book mantra you’ve feverishly rescued from the depths of your brain with a passionate “I’LL NEVER!”.
Or when death comes up. I’m sure you’ve vegetated to the sound of your child’s sweet voice inquiring about death or, worse yet, their own mortality.
“Mom, did Louisa doaaaay?” 4 Year Old asks me in a cut-to-the-chase kind of tone.
(I’LL NEVER, I’LL NEVER, I’LL NEVER screams a panicky voice inside my head.)
“No!” I protest, surprised to hear my own “I’m offended that you should even suggest that” tone of voice.
See, Louisa is our dog who died a year ago.
I was eight months pregnant at the time and didn’t want my then three-year-old who just had his first brush with death to associate hospitals with illness and death, since I was so close to my due date. Over the next few days it took him to realize that our dog was missing a transatlantic symposium with friends and family convened over the phone and the foundations of Doggy Land were laid. Neighbours, care givers, friends and family were all notified. There was going to be a zero tolerance policy towards any mistakes.
Doggy Land was running smoothly until BFF Chelsea’s cat Pepe died and went to heaven.
“Mom, did Louisa doaaaay?” he asks me again. Here’s my chance for redemption. I confirm.
It took a couple of months for that volcano to form and then it erupted one night at the cottage. On that night I remember so well, I spoke to God out loud for the first time ever, a dramatic gesture on my part, which was actually anticlimactic and understated in comparison to my son’s tearful address preceding it: God, PLEASE forgive us! PLEASE forgive us! Please don’t make me and my mommy and Daniel and my daddy doaaaay! Please! I don’t want to be dead, I don’t want to be by myself!”
That night and ever since I’ve been struggling with taking the edge off death for my kid. When I’d tell him that it only happens to very, very, very old people and describe the multiple milestones he still had to conquer before turning old, he would retort with “I’M NEVER having grand children, nuh-uh, not me. NEVER”. When I promised him I did speak to God every evening and asked for health for him and his brother he would want to get down to the nitty gritty, yes, but did I ask him that we don’t die? When I finally decided that loyalty to life’s truisms was overrated and that I’d rather protect his heart at this stage and reassured him that not only did I speak to God but I also told him that 4 Year Old should not die even as an old man, he would then ask for God’s response.
Our conversations on the topic ranged from heart-wrenching to completely absurd. Some of the most memorable “did we just go there” moments included catching myself explaining the concept of eternity of the soul with the aid of white corridors and trying to apply logic in response to my son’s questions on technicalities like whether his brain was going to travel with him or not and what about his head.
I am not entirely sure what death looks like inside my four-year-old’s mind, but I do know it’s intricately connected with the act of separating from me, a ritual enhanced by attending a new school. He may not fully grasp its meaning, but he understands that death is a loaded topic and treats it with trepidation. He has many concerns about it: Does God collect people? What happens then if I fall off his lap? How will you find me when I go there?
My brain is engaged in this, what feels like a super awkward game of Twister, as I stretch it in five different directions trying to find a comforting answer to reassure him that I will be able to find him in heaven, but applying logic to explain exactly how I intend to do so proves to be one of the most difficult tasks I was ever faced with. Impotence galore. At moments like these I feel like my impotence is up there on stage with huge projectors illuminating it.
Parenting is the hardest thing you’ve ever done not because of the sleep deprivation or the any of the other sacrifices it requires. Parenting is the hardest thing you’ve ever done because it forces you to become so many things you’re not, a self doubting confidence instiller, the voice of God and God’s representative on earth, a position I am DEFINITELY underqualified for.
I speak to God a lot these days and when s/he doesn’t answer I speak to Google. Google told me I should explain to Four Year Old that the dying body is like an old worn out shoe. I think I’ll be taking it back to God.