by Wendy Bradford
Walking home from the grocery store today, my Kindergartner asked if we could get a cat. A medium cat. Not a big cat--which is good as we have five people living in our small-to-medium Manhattan apartment. That cat better not take up a lot of room.
Then she asked if the cat would die.
"Well, everything that lives, will eventually die," I said. "In years and years and years." Probably when you're in college and I will have to call and tell you.
"So, like, not one day we get the cat and then the next day it will die?"
"No. Definitely not." I mean, it's not a gerbil. And what is it with the "like" all the time at five years old?
And then as I pulled the key from our front door: "Are you going to die?"
"All things that live, will die. So all people will die. When we're very very very old. So old you can't even imagine it. You will be an old, old, old grandmother when--that happens."
"Like the old ladies that can't walk? Like 100?"
"Yes, like that." Like the ones that leave in the ambulances on occasion.
"But then I won't have a mother. Like dinosaurs!"
"But you'll be a very old lady. With grandchildren of your own. It will be so long from now it will seem like forever."
"Do toys die?"
"No because toys aren't alive. They're only alive with your imagination." Thanks Disney-Pixar.
"What if Molly Dolly comes alive and then dies?"
"She can't. That cannot happen. I promise you." No more Toy Story Movies. Ever.
"When do people die? At night or in the morning? In their sleep like this
"I really don't know. Different times I guess." I am pretty sure I heard somewhere that telling children that anyone, anywhere at anytime has died in his sleep is the fastest way to ensure you will have a child who refuses to go to sleep ever, ever again. So I am not going near that one. "I think God determines that." Wrong answer.
I put the groceries on the floor, and we sat on the sofa in front of the air conditioner. Without pulling out the Little Golden Books set of Bible stories that we own (we really do) or any other religious or philosophical texts you might find in a mixed faith household, I did my best to present a matter-of-fact explanation of the universe: who made our bones and blood; who made the stars and planets; who made buildings, concrete, and plastic. (I take responsibility for the fallout should she become a doctor or a general contractor.)
"Is God in the clouds?"
I guessed those groceries would just rot on the floor.
"Is God all over the world?"
"Some people believe that."
"Is God in our apartment?"
Why didn't I just go to a pet store? We could have at least enjoyed a pretty fish for a few days before this conversation.
"I WANT DADDY!" Tears. Many tears.
"NO! No one is in our apartment!" My children need assurance the Easter bunny will not visit inside our apartment; baskets are always left outside our door.
"It is just our family in our apartment!"
"I don't want daddy to be at work!" I don't want daddy to be at work either!
"Ok, listen, sweetheart. People believe many different things. You can believe anything you want. You can not believe anything too..." We discussed believing and choosing not believing. How that can change.
Our conversation ended on birthday parties--her next one will have face painting and hairstyles; everyone will get any hairstyle he or she wants--even the grown ups will dress up: "because there will be lockers for everyone to change into their costumes." As long as there is that.
My daughter was brave through that conversation. I can't remember what it was like to have first been aware of those things we don't understand. But it is scary to have these things in your mind when you're almost six. And almost 43.