It comes with the territory of having a smart kid; a kid who isn’t satisfied with “yes” or “no” answers, a kid who likes details, who looks inside of things and turns them around in his head over and over until they make sense. You have to expect it from a kid who likes to know everyone is happy and no one is in a bad mood, or angry, or sad. A kid who totally understands when you take his chocolate dessert away because it’ll make him cough harder. (As long as you replace it with a frosted sugar cookie.)
We told G on Saturday that our cat, Sonny passed away, and for two hours he was untouched by the news. But as soon as he digested it, the questions came.
“Will we see him again?”
“Is he still sick?”
“Was he old?”
They were easy questions at first. The great thing about Garrett is you just have to be honest with him. We always are. Yes, the shot will hurt a little but then you’ll get a lollipop. No, you can’t bring your blanket to the restaurant because God knows what’s on the floor of those places, and if it touches the floor I’ll have to wash it 30 times. No, this isn’t mommy’s original nose.
But the questions got harder. And somewhere between honesty and fantasy lies spirituality. This is the first time I had to share any of my beliefs with my son, and the first time I wasn’t sure about how honest I was being… Because I don’t know the truth.
“Am I going to die?”
“Yes, we all are.”
“What happens when we die?”
“Well, I think we go to Heaven and we get to do a lot of fun things.”
“Do they have houses? And food? And drinks? And refrigerators?”
“Yes to all of those.”
Then he said this:
“I’m SO EXCITED to get to Heaven!!”
I put the brakes on.
“Whoa!! Slow down, sweetie. Don’t rush to get there. You should stay here as long as possible.”
“But Heaven sounds fun!”
“I’m sure it is, honey. But it’s fun here, too. I would miss you if you went there, so let’s all stay here for a while.”
Then he got sad and said he didn’t want to die because he wouldn’t be able to play with his Transformers. (He only has one Transformer. And it’s on loan from his cousin. But apparently it’s the one possession that’s making him want to stay here.)
We talked about Grandpa Art and how he’s probably taking care of Sonny, then he asked if we could call them. I told him he could talk to them whenever he wanted but we wouldn’t be able to hear them talk back. I told him when people die we don’t get to see them again, and that it’s harder for us then it is for them.
He wanted to know what Heaven looks like and if we could look it up on the computer. I told him no one knows unless they’ve already gone there, but we could draw pictures in the morning of what we think it looks like.
He asked if Russ and I are going to die, and when. I told him we’d hopefully all live until we’re 100 years old. Then he said over and over how he didn’t want to ever die and I told him it was so long from now that we don’t have to worry about it. I distinctly remember those childhood fears. They’re still fears of mine, but they’re a lot less raw and scary.
It was a hard conversation to have. It tested all of my parenting skills. And I know we’ll be talking about it for a long time. It is in these moments, when we’re faced with these challenges, that we parents wonder how much we’re screwing our kids up. Because, we are. It may just be a little bit, barely detectable, but it’s most likely bigger than that. And if we didn’t screw them up this time, we’ll do it the next time, when they ask us about love or marriage or oral sex or drugs or alcohol or geometry.
But it is in the deepest part of me that I long to look my son in the eye and share with him my truths. I promise to not shy away from the tough questions, but to face them head-on and answer them. I want him to know that he is worth the painful conversations and the uncomfortable silences. I will do my best to not screw him up too badly. Or I’ll die trying.