Monday, March 15, 2010
Driving to Heaven
"Mommy, where's Kayla?"
Kayla was our beloved dog who passed away last summer after a long life of seventeen years, the last couple spent in our laundry room as a tired, elderly relative seeking asylum from two kids under two.
And so it began, the debate between truth and white lies in explaining death to my toddler. I explained that Kayla was in dog heaven, that she was happy.
"Who drives her there?"
I was flummoxed. "She, um, she runs there. No one drives her. She's ah...always there."
"What does she eat there?"
Ah, this one was easier. "Lots of yummy things like dog biscuits and ice cream and pancakes...."
Yes, lollipops. How do you do this? For the millionth time in motherhood I was grateful that this problem wasn't bigger. How would I explain the departure of a person, someone close to him? We had lost my father-in-law when he was 14 months old and while I try to make sure he knows who Pa is, I think his grandfather is an abstract idea for him. One of my aunts also died tragically last summer, but he was only briefly familiar with her. He saw Kayla every day and understood she was part of our family.
He lists us all by name when referring to our family: me, my husband, him and his little brother, then finally the cat and ending with Kayla. Even though he hasn't seen her in more than six months.
I know there are books and websites to help you deal with the swarm of awkward and difficult and painful conversations with toddlers. I know people have had to do this kind of thing for as long as humans have been around. But nothing can prepare you for when you child, brimming with innocence and determined curiosity, looks into your eyes and asks,
"When can we see her?"
And although I'd dealt with and, I'd thought, gotten over Kayla's death months ago, my eyes filled with tears.
"We can't see her, honey. Not for a long long time...But we can remember her, and talk about her, and look at pictures of her...."
This seemed to help. His next question was something else, about whether sharks are nice and what his babysitter had for breakfast, the kind of rollicking early morning non sequitor I live for.
And I think, let it last, please let it last, this world of his innocence, his curiosity, his ready acceptance for my trite explanations, his faith in me. For that world is understandable. In that world if something is unfair or confusing, someone he loves will provide the answers. In that world he is safe, from the moment his breakfast is placed in front of him to the stories read and the covers pulled up to his chin at night. In that world we will see Kayla, and Pa, and my aunt again. Of course we will. He has no doubts. This is his world, which I left long ago, but now thanks to him I have a special visa to visit.
We can't stay there for long, I know, but I'm going to enjoy every minute.
Posted by Tracy McArdle at 2:04 PM