"But I don't want you and Daddy to die."
This, from a sobbing four-year-old...my sobbing four-year-old...a child who screams a lot but rarely sheds a real tear.
He was clinging to me, still damp from his shower, his yellow towel wrapped around him, his hair still dripping.
We have no idea where this came from.
We have had (knock on wood, thank God, insert any and all superstitious sayings here) no deaths or illnesses in the family. We have not watched anything new on TV. Nothing. We'd had, in fact, had a lovely afternoon, the four of us, at the outlet mall, shopping for, specifically, "super-hero PJs." We'd ended our shopping with a ride on the merry-go-round, and had come home for pizza and chocolate ice cream. I'd been cutting up tomatoes and listening to the Beach Boys when I heard some whimpering and something about "getting old" and "dying" coming from the bathroom, where the boys were being bathed by Hubby.
I walked in to find Ben with his towel over his head, making noises which were either muffled cries or silly giggles.
When I took the towel off his head, sat down on his step stool, and asked him what was wrong, his face crumpled.
"I don't want you and Daddy to die."
Hubby and I had done our best to be truthful without being scary, feeling completely unsure and at a loss. I wanted to be honest. I wanted to be somewhat matter-of-fact. I wanted to be calm. I did not, under any circumstances, want to scare him. But I also would not, under any circumstances, lie about something like this.
So here it was: The Heavy Stuff.
We explained to him that our Mommies and Daddies were still around, and that they were old. That being old did not mean you died. That we'd be around for his whole life (okay, that was a slightly twisted version of the truth). That people lived to be, "like a hundred," and that "a hundred was, like, forever." We told him that that was why we took such good care of ourselves, why we ate healthy foods and exercised and slept well and drank water and visited our doctors for check-ups, because we wanted to be around for a super long time. We wanted to get older because then we'd get to watch him and his brother grow up.
"And I'll grow up, and I'll have babies, too."
"Yes. You will. And we'll get to see that."
We explained to him that everyone gets older, that it's okay, that it's normal, that old doesn't mean "too old", that it's part of life. We mentioned all of his loved ones who are "old."
"But who will die first? You and Daddy or me?"
Never could I have been prepared for a question like that...a question with an easy answer (God willing, again insert every superstitious saying here, please), but a question that was too heartbreaking to hear my little boy ask me.
"We will, honey, because we are much older. Your life is just starting."
"Who will die first: Tata, Pepe, Abelo, Aba, or Tantala?" (every grandparent plus his pseudo-godmother, all in their late 60s and early 70s, and all integral parts of his daily life).
"I don't know, honey. No one knows. There is no way of knowing that."
"I think Abelo will," he responds, "because he's got really old hair and a really big belly." (The one humorous moment of this conversation.)
Then a pause.
"So I will die before Aidan." He didn't sound upset when he said this, just mathematical.
And at that moment, I can not...I simply can not...believe I am discussing with my four-year-old whether he or his little brother will die first.
"I don't know, honey. You guys are really about the same age. I know it seems like you're much older, but you and Aidan are about the same age, like your Aunt and me. And you guys are going to be really, really old too."
I assured him, yet again, that he had nothing to worry about. That Mommy and Daddy were gonna be around for a long, long time.
"We're not going anywhere, honey. We're gonna be around, for, like, ever."
We went about our business then...he putting on his brand new Spiderman PJs and jumping around like a superhero, me pressing "play" on the iPod for more summer tunes, Hubby cutting the pizza and opening the wine. There was no more talk of dying. We discussed how many toys we'd be bringing him back from our upcoming weekend away to Key West, whether or not Key West was an island and what did it look like, and the location of the Skittles purchased last week.
But after the boys were down, after everything had been cleaned up, after I'd showered, I knew I had to sit down and write this post.
I had to get it out.
I hoped that by doing that, I'd be able to let it go, not dwell, move on.
The conversation left me feeling anxious, vulnerable, scared, and helpless.
I am sure this could have been a beautifully written post, one with poignancy and poetic life lessons, but honestly, I feel spent. I have no "point," no beautiful ending, no epiphany. What I have is a heavy heart, because the conversation I just had with my little boy made me realize how little I can really do to keep him (and us) from the harsh realities of life.