Hang on to your knickers, this one’s a serious one

Most of the talking I do with Bug is ordinary everyday talking – a conversation about a big truck we’ve passed in the car, a discussion about what we’ll have for snack, stories about what happened at school, a fight about which pair of underwear he can wear to school (Dirty vs. Clean), etc., and my awareness of my parenting is lost to the humdrum of daily activity.

Then sometimes in the midst of a string of Which book are you going to read me Mama? Are you going to read to me now Mama? Bug will ask me a Really Big Life Question and all of a sudden I feel like I can’t breathe. Here is this gorgeous child with big brown eyes staring at me, waiting to hear my answer to his question, and I know that my answer will be The Answer to him. It’s like someone rang my doorbell and said “Hello! Just to remind you, you’re largely responsible for shaping this person’s development! Have a nice day!” Great. NO PRESSURE.

And the feeling in my stomach is exactly the same feeling that I used to get before tennis matches in high school or voice recitals in college. A kind of Holy Shit Here We Go feeling that almost always coincided with an extreme urge to empty my bladder.

Today, it went down like this.

We’re sitting on the couch, attempting Quiet Time (which is turning out to be wildly unsuccessful) and Bug has been doing his normal random chattering about cars passing by outside and which toys he’s playing with at the moment when all of a sudden he says

“We don’t die, right Mama?”

Long pause. I look at him. Welcome to Winging Parenthood 101. Class is in session.

“What buddy?”

“We don’t die, right?”

“Well, actually, we do die, Bug. Everybody in the world dies at some point.”

“But I don’t die, right Mama?”

“Well, even you will die someday. I don’t think that day will be for a long long time, but one day even you will die.”

“Why?”

“Well, because our bodies are made to last only a certain amount of time, and when they don’t work anymore we die. But it’s ok, because that’s the way it’s supposed to be. It’s the way God made it.”

“But I don’t want to die, Mama.” (He’s getting a little upset at this point.)

“I don’t want to die either Bug. It’s nice to live isn’t it? But dying is just a part of living, and it’s what’s supposed to happen.”

“But I don’t like it.”

“I know. I don’t think many people like it Bug. It’s nice to be in the world and be around the people we love. And it’s sad when people die and it makes us sad when they’re not here anymore doesn’t it.”

(sadly) “Yeah.”

He looks at me for a long time, right in the eyes, and I think He can see right inside me, all the way.

“But Mama, little kids don’t die, right?”

Geez Louise.

“Well Bug, sometimes little kids do die. And that’s really sad because they didn’t get to live for very long, but it does happen sometimes. Sometimes kids get sick or get in accidents and they die just like grown ups.”

“Mama, I don’t want to die.” He buries his head in the arm of the couch.

I scoop him up in my arms.

“Buddy, what made you think about this? You don’t have to worry about dying any time soon. You are healthy and safe and everything is ok. And I love you.”

“Ok, Mama.”

And we just sit there for a minute, me cradling him like I used to when he was a baby and I’m thinking All I want in life is to be a good mom to this kid.

And then he separates from me and says “Now can I have a snack?” And just like that we’re back to the everyday talk.

It’s supposed to be that way though, I think. Niney-nine percent of the time we parent the humdrum moments (knowing on some level that no moment of parenting is unimportant with a small child) and one percent of the time we are thrust into the hyper-aware state of parenting. The state that says “Pay attention to this. This is important. You are the world to this child and your words influence him more than anyone else’s.” We can’t take too much of that state though, or at least I can’t. Too much performance anxiety.

So I just keep doing the best I can. It’s all I can do.

I don’t know what made Bug think about dying or his dying. But I’m glad he’s asking those questions. I know we’ll talk more some day and what he learns will be built upon by others as he gets older. Even if I can only give him my feeble answers and explanations for now, I’m glad I can do those things sitting on the couch with him, in the middle of the day, at the time it came to him. I’m just glad to be around for it at all.

Even the Holy Shit Here We Go part.

7 comments

1 Anjie { 04.30.08 at 4:05 pm }

you are a good, good, good mama. and just generally a good, good, good person.

2 Gramps { 04.30.08 at 4:43 pm }

I can remember a similar conversation that I had with Bug’s uncle when he was about five. I did not handle it nearly as well as you did.

3 Leigh Ann { 04.30.08 at 6:35 pm }

after we put hershey to sleep sera got obsessed with death. she didn’t worry about herself dying, she was concerned about what would happen to her if patrick and i died. she had figured out that my mom died when i was young and she didn’t like that at all. we had, and still have, very similar conversations like you and bug had. as moms we seldom get any feedback. we never know if what we are doing is right. you did great. and looking back, so did i. just what til he asks how the doctor is going to get the baby out of your tummy!

4 Bean { 04.30.08 at 7:17 pm }

Good. Job. For real, yo.

5 Rebekah { 05.01.08 at 9:30 am }

I’ve seriously read this four times and teared up every time. I don’t know what that says about me, but I think it means you are a good mom with an awesome kid.

6 Don Mills Diva { 05.01.08 at 3:16 pm }

We’re all just winging it, aren’t we? Sounds like you’re doing a wonderful job mama.

7 Carol { 05.01.08 at 7:41 pm }

I’m so glad that you told Bug the truth– some parents try to divert their children’s attention when these hard conversations come up. Or they provide brief platitudes. You responded fully to Bug’s questions for the length of time he wanted to discuss death. It is awesome that you are AWARE of the way that these moments are building a foundation of trust.

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