On a recent Sunday morning, I was driving home from walking with a friend when I called my husband. I wanted to see if he and the kids wanted to get ready to go out for a stroll around the neighborhood when I got there. I had just heard on the radio that it was forecasted to rain all afternoon, and if we were going to get the kids outside to burn some energy, this was going to be the time.
“Is that Mommy?” I heard four-year-old Jack ask. Ben had me on speakerphone, so the kids could hear me talking.
“Hey, Jack! Do you want to go for a walk with me when I get home?” I asked.
“Mommy!” he said very loudly. He must have moved closer to the phone. “Did you know that Daddy is going to die one day?”
“Um … Huh … Really? Daddy is going to die one day?” I said as a sentence that definitely ended with a question mark.
I listened to a Masterclass recently about negotiations, something that I thought might come in handy while parenting. One of the suggestions was to repeat the last few words of each sentence that the person you are negotiating with says. This mirroring gives you the opportunity to get the other side engaged and involved in a conversation while possibly teasing out new information. This, fresh on my mind, was the best I could come up with.
I knew it was coming one day soon. Our geriatric dog had a scary medical situation days before Christmas, and Ben and I thought the end for him was near. We floated the idea of Scooter dying to Jack so that it wouldn’t be a total shock.
Just last month, Bug, Jack’s beta fish, was sick and looked to be on his last flipper. Jack was concerned, and we talked about what would happen if Bug didn’t make it. After some internet research and TLC, I think the fish is on the mend now. Plus, with her heart and lung disease, his little sister has danced with death a few times in her short life, and I am sure he has overheard us talking about her.
“Yes! It is just part of nature,” Jack told me, repeating what his daddy had told him.
Later, on our family walk, Ben and I were lagging behind and he filled me in on what had happened earlier. While he was cooking breakfast, Jack walked in without any context and asked Ben if he was going to die one day. Ben said he was honest with him and told him that it was just the natural course of the world, that every living thing would die.
“He told me that he would miss me, and I told him that I would miss him too,” Ben told me. Even though he was just as unsure of what to say as I was, what he recounted to me sounded perfect.
I know that Jack’s brain is developing, and he is thinking through more complex questions and ideas, all things that are good and appropriate for his age. But the questions are getting harder to answer.
“How do I know if I am happy and I know it?” he asked me this week from the backseat of the car.
After a beat to think, I defaulted back to what I knew and asked, “How do you know if you are happy … err … and you know it?” Maybe I should take a class on Ben’s answer honestly approach.