Another mother of a 2-year-old boy told me recently, “I was prepared to talk about big questions like death, but I was not ready to be used as a human jungle gym.” I completely agree with her – the sheer physicality of toddlers is overwhelming. Neil and I aren’t particularly rough-and-tumble ourselves, but we spend a lot of time thinking and talking and reading about big questions.
When the big questions come, though, the pressure is on. If you stumble, your clumsy words might be the thing that your impressionable child remembers the most – the thing that they latch onto and form their own dissertation in their tiny little heads about That Thing Mommy Said when they asked their sincere, earnest questions. I’ve spent so much time (over) thinking this phenomenon, in fact, that I think we sometimes assign too much importance to questions that might not warrant it. Still, I was looking forward to moving past the questions like, “Can this be mine? Can I touch your nose now? Can I have your phone? Look at my face! Now look at this one! Can you be a robot? Can you? Can you be a mommy cricket? I like your belly button! Did you get it at Target? I burped. Can you turn around?” (This is a verbatim script of my typical morning.) We’ve been looking forward to moving toward questions like, “Is everything a part of nature?”
Last year around this time, Rowan asked us about death. It was bed time, naturally, and so we had an interest in brevity as well as accuracy. I think his question was simply, “What happens when something dies?”
Given his obsession with dinosaurs at the time, and his use of the word “something” instead of “someone” (nuance is everything), I wanted to explore the question a little further before answering. Was he talking in terms of pure decomposition, or was there a deeper question lurking? Neil’s dad died when Rowan was just 6 weeks old, and given Neil’s profession, death has been a fairly common topic of conversation at our house.
I was about to launch into some clarifying questions when Neil jumped in with, “Well, all love comes from God, and God loved us so much that He gave us Jesus.”
The child was asking about fossils.
But now we’ve introduced Jesus into the equation, the very exception to the rule of decomposition and decay.
Way to go, Padre.
While I scrambled through my (admittedly basic) understanding of the Ascension, my Yale MDiv-holding husband was on the couch in the next room, happily reading blog posts about other deep questions. Somewhere in there, there was a question about cremation, too. Awesome. We eventually recovered, but not until several weeks passed in which he asked to “go to the museum where they have lots of maps, so we can find Jesus’ skin and bones.” Mercy.
A few weeks ago, when we were getting ready to head out the door in the morning (another time when brevity is key), Rowan got a little quiver in his voice when he said, “They were going to kill that baby with a knife.”
Thankfully, I knew the origins of this one, too.
At a loss for gift ideas this year, I bought Neil The Brick Bible for Christmas. LEGO? Check. Bible? Check. Available at Costco? Sold. It’s a book of photographs and comic-book style words, representing Bible stories with LEGO. What could go wrong?
Rowan was admiring the cover of the book a few weeks ago, and I encouraged him to look inside. Who wouldn’t love a LEGO bible?
Well. Of course, he came to the part in 1 Kings about Solomon and the baby, and waited until we were rushing out the door for school to ask about it. He’d obviously been perseverating over it for a while. Prioritizing calm comfort, we assured him that the baby didn’t die, and that a very wise king named Solomon saved him.
That didn’t seem to cut it (no pun intended), as I looked into his big, scared eyes. Deep breath.
“Well, sweetie, that king was really just … just … playing a trick on the mommies. And he saved his life! So it’s all OK.”
I whispered something that would probably constitute heresy in his ear. My husband tried not to listen while simultaneously rushing the poor child to school.
As soon as they were out the door, I put the Brick Bible on a high, high shelf. Better left to be interpreted with parental guidance.
This morning, again before school (the kid has impeccable timing), Rowan started reciting what he learned about Abraham Lincoln for their Presidents’ Day lesson at school.
It started out innocently enough: this was in the olden days, he lived in a shop, and he was too tall to sleep in a bed. And then (you know this was coming): there was a war. “Which ‘team’ was from the United States?”
“They both were, sweetie.”
“Oh. That’s bad.”
“Yes, it was really bad.”
“Well, did Abraham Lincoln’s team win?”
“They did, but when there’s a war, nobody really wins, honey. Everybody loses.”
“And President Lincoln was a great man, and a great leader, and I bet he was a really nice guy, but he wasn’t perfect. He made mistakes, too. All people do. And war is messy, and awful, and even when one side ‘wins,’ everybody loses.”
I’m going to need another cup of coffee. Raising pacifists is exhausting.