It's funny, because I only got to parent Boy-o for oh, about 10 minutes this weekend. (Well, after the parenting fail, it turned out to be a bit more like an hour.) The rest of the time he spent getting spoiled rotten by his grandparents. At any rate, during those 10 minutes of weekend parenting, I made a spectacular ooops. We were reading his favorite bedtime story, which is a much-too-old-for-him book on space exploration, in which we mostly go from picture to picture, reading the explanatory captions (and talking a lot about Neil Armstrong and what the Earth looks like from space). So - we get to a picture we haven't seen before which looks like an enormous puff of smoke in the air. And the following short conversation ensues:
Boy-o: What's that?
Me: (scanning the caption about the 1986 Challenger disaster) That's an explosion on a space shuttle.
Boy-o: (lip beginning to quiver) But, but what happened to all of the astronauts?
Me: (thinking desparately for an out and not thinking nearly quick enough) Um, they died, honey.
Commencement of grief-stricken, fearful wailing.
Nice. Good job, Mama. The four year old really needed to know the entire Challenger crew got blown to smithereens midair. Smooth. Why didn't I think fast enough for a good, you know, lie? Something like, 'they safely and orderly left the shuttle using important emergency procedures, parachuting through the sky, landing with a plop in the Indian Ocean and getting plucked out of the ocean into the waiting ship by the good folks at NASA?' No. Blown to bits is a much, much better idea.
Me: (floundering) Um... that was a really, really long time ago. Way before you were born. And space travel is much safer now. They were still just learning then. (etc. etc.)
But my efforts are to no avail, and the wailing continues. I give up on talking, grab my shaking kiddo into my lap, and we rock and cuddle and rock some more. His shaking body does nothing to assuage my guilt, believe-you-me.
I feel guilty for a couple of reasons. First, Boy-o is just beginning to ask questions about death and try to figure out what that all means (which is big for anyone). Second, as a child (and probably still) I was blessed/cursed with an over-ambundance of empathy. If you were to tell me about something horrible happening, I would spend days, sometimes weeks agonizing over it, thinking about the suffering people, putting myself in their shoes. (The discovery of the events of the holocaust knocked me on my ass for months. For real.) And I wonder in my heart of hearts if my Boy-o will (or already does) have the same blessing/curse.
Anyways, I finally get the sobs to subside and tuck Boy-o into bed. It's late. We're both tired. And just when I think he's finally drifted off, I hear a tiny, trembling voice pipe up and ask: "Mama? Can people come back after they die?"
Fuck. Fuckity, fucking, fuck fuck. Fuck squared. I'm sooo not ready for this conversation.
Me: "Ummmmmm. Well,I guess some people believe in something called reincarnation, which kinda means people can come back after they die. Some people believe that people can't come back after they die. Nobody really knows what happens after we die. It's pretty scary to think about, huh?"
Finally the sobs give way to sleep.
But it's gonna come up again. I best be gettin' ready.
Spectacular parenting fail.
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