We All Gotta Go Sometime

29 Jan

Once upon a time, my son learned the concept of “not till you’re older.” When that happened, suddenly everything was about how old he wanted to be, or how old he used to be.

“I want to be 28 years old.”

“Why do you want to be 28 years old?” I asked him, chopping onions and leaking eye juice everywhere.

“Because I want to be a ROCKER, like Uncle Scary.” (Note: My brother Eric is 28 and does indeed rock out from time to time. He is in a band and has a tattoo on the back of his neck, which can only be seen if he shaves off the man-pelt inherited from our Polish ancestors.)

“I want to be 9 years old,” he said another day, wishing to fast-forward to his birthday so he could just go to Chuck E. Cheese already, dammit.
om nom nom
A few months ago, I talked him into giving tuna another chance. “When I was six years old, I didn’t like tunafish,” he announced around a gross mouthful of sandwich.

His age obsession is several years old now. Even so, when I tucked him into bed the other night and he asked if he could be 101 years old someday, I wasn’t prepared.

“That’s a very long time to live,” I told him. “You might, if you stay healthy and safe, but me and daddy will probably be dead by then.”

noooooooooo

I have never seen that boy’s eyes so big in my life. That’s when the Bad Parent Warning alarms started going off in my head.

Thinking quickly, I explained that people only get to live a finite amount of time and that eventually, everyone will die. But, I told him, Mommy and Daddy loved him very much and would do our best to live as long as we could.

It took a good half-hour to answer all the questions that came after that little slip-up. What do you mean, parents aren’t immortal? What if I need you? How does reincarnation work, will you be a fish when you die? I could see the wheels turning in his head and wondered if he was rethinking the whole tuna sandwich thing.

He got up at least three times that night. His mind was too fired up to fall asleep, and when he finally did, he had a nightmare and had to be tucked back into bed with a hug and reassurance that yes, we were alive and well. One restless night became two, then three, but he did eventually stop thinking about it constantly. He still stops in the middle of reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to tell me that when I get old, I don’t have to die. Living forever has jumped up near the top of his list of goals in life.

At first I thought I’d made a mistake in breaching the subject to a 9 year old. Certainly I felt guilty for robbing him of sleep. It wasn’t really fair to drop that bomb on him right before bed, was it? The more I thought about it, though, the less it seemed like an inappropriate topic for a child.

Like everyone who lives a reasonable number of years, he will lose someone he loves one day. The Q&A sessions we have almost every day won’t mean he’ll be any less sad when it happens–goodness knows I’ve thought about it plenty and I’ll still be devastated when I lose my own parents–but he’ll have a basic framework upon which he can define what it means to grieve, and that just might make it a little bit easier to cope.

In the end, what really matters is I try my best to be there for him when he has the big questions, the little questions, and all the ones in between. Long after he stops worrying about whether his food is made of reincarnated people, he’ll remember that he could talk to his mom about absolutely anything, and she would always give him an honest answer… even if it wasn’t always the sunshine and rainbows he was hoping for.

Update: Just a couple days after this was written, wouldn’t you know it but my dear old granddad died. My son always referred to him affectionately as “Grandpa Jr.” because my dad is the Original #1 super rad-sauce Gramps ever, but since they lived next door to each other he visited the older generation whenever we were in town. When I had to tell him the news, he cried… but he didn’t lose much sleep that night, because he was already prepared to talk about death. He asked a few questions, borrowed my phone to text my mom and dad, and was comforted. No nightmares, no fuss, and no lingering bad-parent alarms.

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2 Responses to “We All Gotta Go Sometime”

  1. Tami January 29, 2011 at 9:48 am #

    I imagine a Bad Parent Alarm sounds like a very bad imitation of Freud, repeating, “Tell me about your mother. Tell me about your mother. Tell me about your mother.”

    • Bika January 29, 2011 at 2:06 pm #

      That’s the most amazing thing I’ve read all day. This needs to be a real thing.

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