Tag Archives: death

Summer Week: Dinner Conversation

Firstborn (eating ice cream): Where does the word “dessert” come from?

Me: You know, that’s a really good question! I think—

Firstborn: Where does the word “grave” come from?

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Return Week: Death Becomes Her

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While recently walking through a nearby cemetery, which we used to do more often but now only sometimes do, we discovered a gravestone bearing a name similar to—but not exactly spelled the same—as my firstborn’s. She was excited.

I had forgotten about the find by that evening, but a few days later, as we drove past the cemetery, she casually announced, “Look, there I am!”

I was creeped out to see her pointing out the window at a field of monuments and headstones, but I do have good recall and the ability to think like my kids, so I quickly figured out what she meant.

I’ve mentioned this particular child’s fascination with the macabre before, and instead of trying to sweep it under a sunshiny rug, I figured that interest can be harnessed.

Thus was born the idea for our Summer Mystery.

While at the cemetery, my firstborn also noticed a lone headstone in the middle of an otherwise empty section. This stone is obviously very old: weatherbeaten, spotty, and worn down. She wants to know why it’s isolated. So I told her our summer project can be researching the grave to find out who’s buried there and why. We can contact the cemetery district, the mortuary owners, the historical society. I figured it would be an educational opportunity.

Sound like a fun summer activity, yeah?

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Return Week: Questions and Questions

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“Where do babies come from?”

It’s an easy question. One of the easiest, really. If you’re a parent, you know where babies come from, and the answer really is quite simple, no matter how squeamish you may feel in talking about it with your children.

My wife and I have no problem with that question.

It’s the questions with difficult answers that trip me up.

Every year, my family attends the Memorial Day service at the cemetery near our house. We hear “The Gettysburg Address” from a sort-of Lincoln impersonator, listen to a quartet sing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and clap for the men and women who stand and salute when their respective military-branch theme songs are played. As parents, my wife and I are upfront about death.

But as easy as it is to explain to our kids that lungs or a heart or a brain can stop working, it’s difficult to explain why someone would make that happen to someone else.

How do I answer my newly 5-year-old secondborn when she asks, “Daddy, why do we have wars?”

I hate not being in control, not having the answers. I hate it when that same daughter asks me why her stomach is hurting and what I can do to stop it from hurting. Every night. Short of continuing to take her to the doctor for tests, there’s nothing I can do. I don’t have an answer.

I’m still asking questions myself: What drove a frustrated 22-year-old to kill six people in Santa Barbara? Why do gunmen attack children in schools? What will I tell my children when they first hear such reports, when they first receive and comprehend the news that in another school, another classroom, kids just like them were killed—for no reason?

After the ceremony at the cemetery, my firstborn, just about to turn 7, told me that she wants to join the Air Force, like my dad. I told her that if that’s really what she chooses to do with her life, I would support her, but in the meantime, I would try to talk her out of it.

“Why?”

I struggled for an answer.

“Because I would be afraid,” I finally admitted. “I would be afraid that you would die.”

She was undeterred—because Grandpa didn’t die—but I’m not too concerned. She only recently wanted to be a fashion designer/entomologist, which was a career choice that may or may not have involved her creating dresses inspired by insects. I was never clear on the specifics.

I’m not clear on a lot of things.

What if my secondborn’s stomach doesn’t stop hurting?

What if the tests reveal something bad? Something terrible?

What if one of my children does join the military? Sees combat? Disappears from my life?

What if not all of my children outlive me?

What can I do that I’m not already doing?

These are the tough questions. Or, more accurately, these are the tough answers to find.

“Where do babies come from?”

Please. Sperm and an egg are a walk in the park.

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Awkward Week: Freaky Friday

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My family gets a farm box delivered each week, part of what’s called a “CSA” program, for “Community Supported Agriculture.” Basically, we pay for a share of what local farms produce, and the literal fruits (and vegetables) are delivered to our door.

This week, we received a lot of bok choy, which prompted my 6-year-old to collect it all and array it on a chair in our living room, giving each piece a Laura Ingalls Wilder-esque name.

“This is the bok choy family,” she said. “Here is Ma, Pa, little sisters Mary and Carrie, big sister Laura, and little baby Gary.”

Then she added: “So, which ones should we chop up first?”

My wife commented that the whole scenario sounded like a “Little House on the Prairie”/axe murderer mashup, but my daughter did subsequently singlehandedly prep and cook ginger rice noodle soup for the family for dinner tonight, so I’m not worried.

At least, I’m not complaining.

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Late Week: Freaky Friday

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Freaky Friday on a Saturday? It’s Late Week! Anything goes!

Actually, I had most of this post prepared a full day in advance, and I still managed to fall asleep without finishing it Friday night. But this week’s theme is a forgiving one. So I’m declaring this a Late Week miracle!

Now, onto the actual content:

My wife was heading out to run some evening errands couple of days ago, and my 4-year-old was, for some reason, freaking out about the departure: clinging to her mom’s leg, crying, refusing to answer our questions as to why she was so upset. She’s only blubber that she didn’t want Mom to leave.

Before we just pried her off and let her scream—my wife had presents to buy, after all, probably for me!—we tried making my daughter laugh. Nope. She chuckled a bit at my attempts, and then went right back to her paranoid sobbing. We tried reasoning with her. And then I decided to throw her into the middle of a game. I figured that if she suddenly thought she could win—that elusive and undefinable yet desperately desirable state of success my daughters yearn for, whether they’re on their way up the stairs to brush their teeth for bed and decide to start racing or are comparing the juice I poured them into different-shaped glasses to see who got more—she’d forget whatever was bothering her.

“I bet you can’t catch me!” I said, and I darted a bit, as if I were about to run off.

My 6-year-old caught on immediately and tried to help, employing what sounded like some reverse psychology of her own:

“Dad’s a thief! He wants to catch you, kill you, and eat you!” she shouted. “Want to chase him?”

In retrospect, and looking at it actually written down, it seems fairly innocuous. I play all sorts of games where I’m a lion ready to pounce on the girls, or a monster coming to chomp them, or something similar. So I guess the death is implied.

But I never come right out and say it. There’s a difference between sending your kids scurrying by shouting “I’m going to get you!” and “I’m going to kill you!”

I do have a somewhat dark game I break out when the girls are pretending they’re asleep. Sometimes they’ll fake it in the backseat of the van, squeezing their eyes shut and keeping rigidly stoic faces as I unbuckle them and toss them over my shoulder to carry inside. At times like that, I’ll stage whisper to my wife: “Since the kids are asleep, I can tell you this: They seem to be getting to just about the perfect size for eating. Remember: Never let them know!” Then I act all surprised when they sit up and accuse me of wanting to cook them.

Anyway, my 4-year-old wasn’t terrified or anything by her sister’s shout, but it didn’t help either. My wife and I exchanged eyebrow raises, and then we did the prying.

My girl was fine for the rest of the night. Mostly.

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Carol Week: Freaky Friday

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Kids singing in unison can be sweet. It can also be creepy. It depends on the time of day they’re singing. And the listeners’ frame of mind. And how in-key they are.

It’s not just singing, either. My girls can be very sweet in their general interactions, but they can also freak me out.

Two or three nights ago, my 6-year-old was being mildly rude to my 4-year-old as they got ready for bed, so I dropped some fatherly (though admittedly made up, as I’m an only child) wisdom:

Me: Treat her well. You’ll be sisters your whole lives.

Firstborn: I hope we die together. Like if someone shoots me with an arrow, it goes through me and hits her, too.

Second: Maybe she can be standing in line, and I’m right behind her, and the arrow would go through us and make a big hole.

Me: Uh … that’s … a nice … thought?

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Identity Week: Freaky Friday

Identity Week: Freaky Friday

My kids are storytellers.

They’re obviously wired to be storytellers, what with my genetics and all, but they’ve also been raised on a steady diet of dramatic narratives, from their minimum of three nightly bedtime stories to the repeated tales I tell about past family happenings at every chance I get.

My firstborn will recount, in great detail, the time she found a black widow that had fallen into our house from the mail slot near the front door. Likely stunned at being shoved from its home by a sheaf of letters, it had curled up into a ball like an obsidian marble in our entryway. An unexpectedly large obsidian marble.

“I reached out an stroked it, once, with my finger,” she says, demonstrating the hesitant gesture. “Slowly, it began to stick out its legs … .”

The telling—complete with hand motions—is a near-verbatim recitation of my own telling of the event to friends and family. And I wasn’t even there to see what had happened firsthand. My wife was the only adult in the house at the time, so my account comes from her descriptions.

My daughter was about 18 months old when it happened, so there’s a chance she doesn’t actually remember it at all and has just adopted my version of the story as her memory without realizing it.

Either way, shortly after my wife realized what her child was petting, she clamped a cup down over it (I don’t know why she didn’t just smash it then and there) and called me at work to say that there was a large black widow trapped near the front door, that she was leaving the house and taking our kid with her, and that she’d come home after I’d taken care of the (contained) threat.

Reality Week throwback: I was next prepared to write some sort of profound musing on the nature of stories and how they define us, weaving together disparate thoughts on the Bible, J.R.R. Tolkien’s idea of a “eucatastrophe” (“the sudden happy turn in a story which pierces you with a joy that brings tears”), Neil Gaiman (my favorite author, besides Ray Bradbury), comic books, and more. And then my 1-year-old decided that flopping around, screaming and crying, and accepting anything offered to him (sippy cup, apple sauce, blanket) only so he could throw it angrily away was preferable to sleeping for several hours last night. So I got up early this morning to finish it off to find that both my daughters chose to wake up, too, to catalog, trade, and bicker over candy they got from a piñata at a birthday party last week.

Then, after my wife came downstairs with the baby (asking, “Why are you kids up so early?), my firstborn declared: “We’ll make a surprise breakfast for mom. The baby will distract her by running away from her. Dad, you’ll cook it.”

To which my next daughter replied: “Yeah, I’ll tell Mommy! ‘Mom, were making you a surprise breakfast! But I won’t tell you what it is.'”

Firstborn: “Actually, Mom, we’re just having eggs. It’s a bummer. Don’t look at the nonsense in the kitchen.”

So apparently I have to go make eggs.

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