Category Archives: tough conversations

Let It Go

He sat on the couch in his bathing suit.  It was just before bedtime.  He aspired to swim earlier, but he never made it into the pool or changed into his pajamas.

There he was with his perfectly taut and full buddha belly that only a four-year-old body could pull off.  As his fifth birthday inched closer, I wanted to bottle up his precious toddlerhood and save it for eternity.

I crouched down next to him, put my hand on his tummy, and said, “Can I make a wish on your buddha belly?”  He laughed because I said buddha and because my hand was cold.

I closed my eyes and made a wish.  I wished for everyone to stay healthy while my husband was out of town for work.  He was scheduled to leave the next day for at least two weeks.  Healthy children and a healthy Mama were crucial for our survival.

When his giggle was complete, he said, “Mommy, what did you wish for?”

“It’s a secret,” I told him.  “If I tell you what I wished for, then it might not come true.”

“Did you wish that Gertie won’t die?” he asked.

Gertie was our 10-week-old puppy.

I didn’t wish for something frivolous like new shoes, a babysitter, or a pedicure, which, by the way, my toes and feet would’ve really appreciated.  I wished for good health, but suddenly even that seemed trivial.

He wanted to know if I wished for Gertie not to die.  Like Harry did.

We did a lot of work – really good and really difficult parenting work – to heal and learn and grow after our beloved dog’s unexpected illness and death last fall, but we couldn’t change the fact that our young children now knew that suffering and death could happen to pets (and people) we loved at any time and for no good reason at all.

As parents, we want to protect our children from the world’s ills, but sometimes we can’t.  Sometimes, despite our best efforts, it happens anyway.  Of course, there’s a sense of sadness and innocence lost that results from the unwanted exposure, but there’s also a freedom, or a release, from fear that comes with it.  Whatever It is.  Death.  Illness.  Divorce.  Debt.  Addiction.  Fill in the blank.  Once our children are exposed to It, and as along as we handle It with great care, it’s simply knowledge (and wisdom) that they’ll carry with them throughout their lives.

A year ago, “Did you wish that Gertie won’t die?” would’ve put me in a tailspin (like the night when my other son asked me if babies died when the twin towers were on fire).  Now, instead of freaking out, I can address It and move on.  I can be consistent, repetitive, and honest about It, and over time I can alleviate their anxiety.  I can focus on helping them understand It instead of sinking in parenting quicksand.  I can let It go.

“No, my Love,” I said to my boy with the buddha belly.  “I didn’t wish for Gertie not to die.  That would be silly.  She’s perfectly healthy.  I just wished for none of us to get stuffy noses while Daddy’s away.”

Then, I kissed his (un-stuffy for the time being) nose and said, “Let’s get ready for bed.”

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Filed under death, Harry, parenting, tough conversations

Saved

You know you’re in trouble when only one cup of coffee into the morning, your six-year-old kid asks, “Mommy, when the twin towers crumbled in New York City, did babies die?”

I don’t know if it’s because I’m older and wiser or if Dylan is older and wiser, but although I had no idea where the question came from, I felt comfortable – confident, even – answering it.

I’m actually not sure if any babies died on 9-11, but I’d like to believe none did, so I said, “No, sweetie.  The buildings that fell were full of grown ups.  The twin towers were a place where grown ups went to work.  Babies were at home and kids were at school.”

“Were people on fire?” he asked.

“The buildings were on fire,” I said, “so yes, I believe some people were probably on fire.”

Then, “How did the buildings catch fire?”

This is where I lost my footing.  Dylan loves super hero movies that are filled with action, destruction, and good guys and bad guys.  He understands the concept of good and evil in movies.  But in real life, I really, truly, didn’t want to tell him that the reason the twin towers were on fire was because airplanes flew into them.  Airplanes flown by bad guys who purposely hit the buildings filled with innocent people to cause fear, harm, death and destruction.

I was afraid if I answered his question, he’d fear tall buildings or airplanes or both or worse.  But, if I didn’t answer his question, it would’ve been awkward, like he time he asked me how babies were made and I froze because I had no idea how to answer without lying or explaining sex, neither of which seemed like a good option.  In that situation, I was saved by Dylan himself when he interrupted my panicked silence with, “I know, Mommy, babies are made by a baby machine inside women’s bellies.”  Who was I to argue with him?

This kid is chock full of curiosity and difficult questions, especially about death.  The evening before, while watching “Bedtime Stories” with Adam Sandler, Dylan asked me, “Who are your uncles?  Are they dead?”  (In the movie, Adam Sandler’s character is an uncle.)  And then, “What are your grandparents names?  Are they dead?”  (Adam Sandler’s character’s father dies in the beginning of the movie.)  I answered openly and honestly as I had many times before.  “I have an Uncle Richie and an Uncle David.  Richie is alive, but David is dead, so he’s in my heart.”  And then the grandparents.  “Their names are Dorothy and Leo, and Arnold and Ruth.  Yes, they are dead.  They’ve been gone for a long time, but I carry them with me inside my heart.”

“How did they die?” He asked.

“Dorothy, Leo, and Ruth died because they were old and very sick,” I said.

And then I veered into new territory because I had never before told him how Arnold died.  “Arnold died in a car accident.  He was old, too, but he was healthy.  His car was hit by a truck, and that’s how he died.  That’s why it’s so important that we wear seatbelts in the car.”

Dylan asked, “Why didn’t he just stay home?”

I said, “Well, he must’ve had somewhere to go.  He didn’t know he was going to get hit by a car.”

He said, “Mommy, I don’t want you to ever die?”

I said, “I don’t ever want to die either.  Let’s keep each other in our hearts always.  Okay?”

He said, “Okay.”

Then, we finished the movie (while I obsessed about just how freaking much I loved my children).

Back to the next morning.  Back to the twin towers.  Back to, “How did the buildings catch fire?”  Before I had a chance to say anything (or nothing), Riley called from the other room, “Mommy, come quick!  I peed in my pants!”  This time I was saved by Riley, who did, indeed, pee in his pants.  On the floor.  In the bathroom.  Next to the toilet.

Perhaps I should thank Riley for his perfectly timed accident…but I won’t.

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Filed under death, movie, September 11th, tough conversations

Really

Riley’s been asking me a lot of really tough questions lately.

Riley:  What’s in the ground?

Me:  Dirt.  Worms.  Pipes.  Subways.

Riley:  No, what’s in the ground?

Me:  Tree roots.  The mantle?  Scrat from “Ice Age” chasing an acorn to the inner core?

Riley: No, what’s really in the GROUND?!

Me:  Umm…

Riley:  What’s in the house?

Me:  Furniture.  Walls.  Windows.

Riley:  No, what’s in the house?

Me:  Concrete.  Drywall.  Plumbing.  Termites?

Riley:  No, what’s really in the HOUSE?!

Me:  Well…

Riley:  What’s in the car?

Me:  The engine.  The radio.  The steering wheel.

Riley:  No, what’s in the car?

Me:  Gas.  Wires.  Us?  Cheez-Its?

Riley:  No, what’s really in the CAR?!

Me:  Really?!

I don’t know what Riley’s really asking me, but he’s clearly trying to make sense of the world and figure out his place in it.  (So am I, by the way.)  At least he’s not asking me questions like, “What happens when you die?

In the car yesterday morning, Riley asked, “Mommy, does the sun know me?”  A quick glance in the rearview mirror unveiled a little wrinkled nose and a pair of eyes squeezed shut from the sun’s bright light.  “Yes,” I said smiling, “The sun knows you.”  Then he asked, “Does the sun know everyone?”  As we drove directly east toward the rising light, I realized I was squinting, too.  “Yes,” I said, “the sun knows everyone.”  That one was easy.  Really.

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Filed under conversations to remember, tough conversations