The ChickieNob has been skirting ever closer to the question of death as she goes through an existential crisis that would make Sartre jump into the postmodernist abyss. The questions come fast and furious for twelve straight hours every day: why do people get old? what happens after someone turns 100? can we ever go back to being a baby? why does the flower get shrivelly after you pick it? will you always be my mommy? will you always be here? will I always be able to see you? where are all of the dinosaurs now? what happens when a person disappears? will you ever disappear? why are you little only for a short time and then old forever and ever?
The Wolvog, on the other hand, does not seem ready for these heady topics and only wants to discuss the iPod Touch, Audis, and how many times he needs to make in the potty before he gets another model car.
Sometimes, she stands so close to the edge that the wind could push her over. In one line of questioning, she asked about the people who live with my grandmother in the nursing home and where my grandmother lived when she was little and as we moved closer and closer to the question, I could see that she wasn't really ready to know. Her voice trailed off as she said, "but Grandma S doesn't have a mommy living there with her. Where's her...why did you buy me a pink My Little Pony?"
"Because I love you and knew you would like it," I answered, still waiting for the real question.
But it never came.
There is a sadness to her questioning and if I had bigger balls, I would have had a quiet conversation with her yesterday afternoon after her brother fell asleep. I could still hear her quietly playing with her stuffed animals in bed while her brother slept. I could have lifted her silently out of the room, brought her into mine, quietly stroked her head while I asked her to tell me what has been on her mind lately.
But I didn't.
And it all goes back to being ball-less.
The fact is that I don't know how to broach these topics that scare the shit out of me as an adult. I have reoccurring loss dreams--I obviously haven't neatly tucked away my own existential crisis. I have dreams where people I love are falling off a sheer cliff, farther and farther away from me without any way to undo the moment. I think my Scandinavian Studies degree fucked with my head with all of their talk about falling into dark, deep, unending pits of despair.
I believe that children ask questions when they're ready to hear the answers. Sometimes, out of circumstances, you need to foist information on them before they're ready, but barring that, I think that the questions will naturally percolate out of their mouth when they're ready to ingest the possible answer. I think she knows full well that something scary and sad happens later in life, but until she asks the question, perhaps she's not truly ready to know.
The problem, of course, is knowing how to explain it when the question does come. I've read some articles on speaking to children about death. I've used the term "n'shama" with them which sort of translates as soul. Not to get all Jew-y on you yet again, but I guess you need to understand this to see how I thought I'd explain it. Hebrew has three terms that all mean soul or spirit but they are used differently. Nefesh is the soul at the most basic level. I think of it as the functioning of the brain, either you're living or you're not and if you are, you have a nefesh.
Ruach is more of an emotional word. It's spirit, but it's what we'd probably call in English a ghost. Perhaps that's not quite right. But the word is connected to the word for wind. Does that make more sense? The life breath? But ruach sort of has a volume control--it can be loud or soft--sort of like the wind. It can be a gentle breeze or it can be a hurricane.
But the word that I was going to use one day to describe death is n'shama. It also means spirit but I always think of it as what makes you...You. It's your soul, your personality, why you laugh at certain jokes and not at others, why you cry when certain commercials come on, why you like the beach more than the mountains, why you fell in love with that particular person, why you want to be a mother. It is the part of you that is open to experience, that is listening, that is taking in new information. It is all of the traits you are born with and all of the traits you choose to acquire--consciously or subconsciously--over the course of your life.
A person will still look like the person without their nefesh or ruach. Not moving, but still the same. But I think they may one day understand that without a person's n'shama, they no longer exist. Without my n'shama, I wouldn't be Melissa. It's an essence that can't be recreated, it can't be contained, it can't be captured in full, and it can't be helped by an outside force.
It is what makes it so special and precious and also what makes it so heartbreaking to discuss.
The thing is that once they know, they can never go back to not knowing. And right now, the world looks very different from reality. How can I be the one who shatters that? It is one thing if circumstances decide the timing, but it is another to choose it, to say the words, to put the ideas into their heads, to let them know.
I just don't want to do that to them.
As much as I joke that the Wolvog isn't spiritually minded, apropos of nothing, he looked at me while I cut his nails over the toilet and said, "thank you for doing a good job watching me near water. I don't want to drown."
You and me both, babe.
Does he truly understand what drown means? Does he sense that it creates something final? And what does final mean to a four-year-old?
The ChickieNob was crying at breakfast one morning that she didn't want to get old. Josh took out a box of goldfish and set four on the table and said, "that's you." Then he counted out 36 of them and pointed to the pile, "that's me." Then he counted out 93 of them and set them on a separate napkin. "That's Grandma S."
And then, that night, as we got ready for bed she said, "do you know where you buy more goldfish? Can you buy more goldfish? We need more of them." And even though I knew that we had a Costco size box of goldfish, even though I knew it would take us several months to eat through the goldfish we already have, that statement is just her toeing the edge, peering off the cliff, asking for more time. And it breaks my heart to look down into the abyss with her. To know that it works both ways. There will be a day that she loses me and there will be a day that I lose her. And while I know it can't go any other way and that there are a lot of goldfish in this lifetime, so to speak, it is still exquisitely painful to sit with that thought. Writing about it has certain brought out several rounds of tears.
But is it scarier to know that the abyss exists or is it scarier to sense that there is a void out there and not know where it is or how one falls in or what falling in even means? I think both sides are pretty damn scary.
Would you draw out the question or wait for it to be asked? And once it is broached, what would you say? Would you tell the full truth or would you make promises you can't keep? And how do you teach a four-year-old to squeeze that truth to the back of her mind so that she doesn't turn into a mini Camus?
I do promise to come back and write the conversation once we have it in case anyone wants to either take what we said or run screaming in the opposite direction.