Last night, while coloring engines on his paper airplane, Boy declared that if I keep living and living and living, I will die. And that if Husband keeps living and living and living, he will die. And Girl, and Boy himself. He didn't want to die, he said.
There are talks I dread, though they aren't the ones that seem to fire people up. Where do babies come from? That's a fact-based answer, and it's easy to make it an age-appropriate answer as well. Why does the new kid in school have dark skin? Fact-based too. These things I can talk about.
Will I die?
Boy knows death is the sad fate of goldfish and a potential side effect of running into the street. Someday he would have to learn that it is, in fact, the sad fate of all of us. Even his beloved parents. Even his precious little self. This was the conversation I dreaded.
I didn't want to lie. What would be the point? The first human death he experienced would then be such a betrayal. I didn't want to pepper him with promises of an afterlife that's all gumdrops and rainbows, because I don't know if it's all gumdrops and rainbows or if there's an afterlife at all. When you're four, you want certainty. You want your mother to declare that that certainly won't happen to you. You want her to say that's not true, that's not what happens.
But she didn't say that. She said, instead, that it's true that that will happen, but with any luck it won't happen for a long, long time. That there's no point in worrying about it, because she worries about it for you.
Welp. Good job, Mom. Yes, you will die, you probably won't for a long time, and your mother worries about it. I'm lucky he slept at all last night.
We had a conference with the director of Boy's school and, predictably, he hasn't suddenly become the glue holding the class together. He's incredibly disruptive and makes it nearly impossible for the other kids to learn. Why do you think that is? she asked. Does he watch too much TV? Is he like that at home? Does he need to try sports?
I strung together a few sentences. We know he's difficult. He becomes easily overwhelmed. He tries, but he only has so much self-control in him.
He has much weightier things on his mind, I should have told her. His own mortality, for instance.
You have so much to learn and see and do, I should have told him. You have a person to become with a life to lead. You do not need to worry about it, full stop.
I wish they saw the boy we do, in the way we do. He's very challenging, no doubt. He's creative, building complex LEGO creations with no assistance or suggestion from us. He's affectionate and curious and loves poop jokes. He is learning and seeing and doing, and becoming a person with a life to lead. He is four years old and worries that if his parents live too long they'll die.
Instead they see the kid everyone hopes won't show up that day. I was a teacher. I get it--I really do--but it's breaking my heart.