Yesterday was a pretty nice day. Jeff slept in, then I took a nap. Some leeks were weeded, the compost was turned, and I harvested the last of the peppers. There was a lot of laid-back playing with the kids. It was in one of those moments that we heard our cat, Cossette, whining for food. Thomas commented that he heard a cat and then surprised me by saying, “I think it is D’artagnan. He is meowing from under the dirt. I miss him.” “I miss him too,” I replied simply and that was that…or so I thought.
The remainder of the day passed uneventfully; a trip to Target and then I put Henry to bed. Jeff, Thomas, and I settled into a dinner of veggie burgers and roasted sweet potatoes. Thomas created a fun little game where he would make an animal sound and ask in hushed, excited tones, “Something is in our house…what could it be?” We went through “baa”, “neigh”, “cluck”, “ssss”, and “moo” (with a comment from me on how messy cow poop in the house would be, but reassurances from Thomas that it was a “people cow” and used the potty). We got to “eek eek” (a mouse) whereupon Jeff commented that it would be bad to have a mouse in the house. This was followed by Thomas’ inevitable question of “Why?” We launched into a discussion of what mice eat (people food) which then somehow morphed into a discussion of what grubs eat (dead things). These simple questions and answers suddenly seemed to trigger a series of connections in Thomas’ mind and we were soon peppered with the questions of, “Why do grubs only eat dead things?”, “Do they eat dead people?”, “Do they eat people that are alive?”, “Do they turn people into dirt?”. We answered each and every question as simply as possible and then reassured Thomas that he can always ask us any question that he would like and we will try to answer him. Then, as if a dam had burst, we were deluged by some big questions, “What is dying?”, “Why do people die ?”, “Will you die?”, “Will Henry die?”, Will I die?”, “Will the grubs eat me?”, “Will you put me in the compost pile?”
Jeff and I are commited to giving our children honest, age-appropriate answers to their questions. The trick with Thomas is in figuring out what is age-appropriate for him. There are so many times that I can see his mind racing ahead of his chronological age or his devleopmental ability to understand a concept. Sitting around the kitchen table last night discussing our inevitable demise I had the urge to lie to him. To tell him that children don’t die, that his parents would never leave him, that the world is really filled only with good people, fluffy kittens, and chocolate. Of course, we didn’t lie, we gave him the truth as gently and simply as possible. When he asked, we told him that yes, it’s rare, but sometimes children do get very sick; that we will all die. We explained that sometimes people die in accidents, such as being hit by a car, and reiterated why it is so important that he not run out into the street and stop at corners and look both wasy. It was gratifying to see the light bulb go off in his head; the realization that his parents are insistent on safety because we are worried about the [now suddenly realistic to him] possibility that he could die. He told us he felt sad and then recalled to us the time, nearly twelve months ago, when I was taken away in an ambulence, 25 weeks pregnant, suffering from severe uncontrollable gastroentoritis. He asked what happened at the hospital, his unspoken question of “How close was my mama to dying?” hanging in the air. He asked how long we would live and we told him around 100 years and then to demostrate the concept outlined our family; how old Mama and Daddy are and that they are clearly still alive, how old all his grandparents are and that they are all alive, that even his great-grandad who is eighty-six is still alive. Thomas smiled and said confidently, “I will be eight-six.” We agreed enthusiatically. We talked for nearly an hour, bedtime cast aside. I doubt with everything weighing on his mind Thomas could have slept anyway. After a few final questions and sadness about D’artagnan, “Is he dirt now?”, “Will grass grow out of him?”, “Do grubs eat the box?”, Jeff scooped Thomas off to carry him into bed. “I have one more question”, Thomas inquired sleepily. “Go ahead”, we said. Thomas looked up at the lamp hanging from the kitchen ceiling and asked, “What is light?” Jeff and I looked at each other, laughed, and told Thomas we would explain that one tomorrow.