"Mom, the sheep's mom on Caillou died. What does that mean?"
DAMN IT, CAILLOU. As if I didn't despise you enough already.
Long pause. I really thought I had another year or two here before this real talk surfaced. Long pause continued. Hmm... Okay. How in the hell do I answer this very legitimate question from my very curious 3-and-a-half-year-old without royally screwing him up? Let's try this.
"Well, buddy, it means that the sheep's mommy is going away... (hesitation) for a while." DAMN IT. Why did those last three words exit my mouth? I know exactly what's coming next.
"So, she'll be back, then, right?"
Another long pause. My ordinarily vast vocabulary and ability to talk freely fail me.
"In a way. The baby sheep will always be able to talk to its mommy, but he won't be able to see her anymore." Not terrible. I could be in the clear.
"Mommy, are you going to die?"
OH MY GOD I CANNOT HANDLE THIS QUESTION. Even though my first AOL screen name was "brdwybabe9" (because the freaking character limit wouldn't let me have "broadwaybabe19"), I am nothing of the sort. Tears were welling up in my eyes. I was literally choking up. I could not look my sweet boy in the face.
"Not for a very long time, honey."
And that, my friends, is how I awkwardly stumbled through my first real conversation as a mom.
I'm not quite sure when or how it happened, but my baby boy has transformed into an actual person. I know that sounds ridiculous because, of course, he has always been a person. But he somehow, quite stealthily, morphed from more of an adorably lovable accessory whom I could smother with hugs and kisses to an independent, mobile, talking, singing little man whom I not only enjoy conversing and joking with, but who is so cleverly figuring out the world around him.
I, like all mothers, was completely and utterly unaware of what motherhood would be like. So focused on the pregnancy, I didn't even consider what would happen once he was no longer growing inside me. Then, all of a sudden, we have this tiny little being that we are completely responsible for. Just my husband and me.
We quickly navigated the basic life skills thing. We learned how to give a bath. My husband could rock a swaddle like nobody's business. (Note: I did read The Happiest Baby on the Block in preparation, but my swaddle likened to the burritos they sometimes serve on airplanes.) We figured out the breastfeeding and the bottles, and eventually the sleeping and the solid food. Even the poop and vomit became our ordinary. In short, we felt like we totally had this. Until now.
This fateful Caillou chat reminded me that there is SO much more.
Yes, we still must literally keep our boys (yup, there are now two) alive. Lots of chicken nuggets, pizza and pasta frequent our home. There's one less kid in diapers, but many more bumps, cuts, and scrapes. And now, there's EVERYTHING else, too.
We are their rock and we are the ones who shape the men they will become. We are fully accountable for teaching these guys to treat every single person on this earth with dignity and respect, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status or level of education (which, frankly seems like it will be hard if the role model is President Drumpf -- he can't win a general election, right?) We are the ones that must instill in them a strong moral compass. We have to teach them to think for themselves and know when to stand with their peers and when to break away. We must inform them about the dangers of drugs and alcohol and trust in them that they will make the right decisions. We must show them that hard work pays off and not to take one single thing for granted because there are people much less fortunate than us. We will demonstrate how important family is. And we have to teach them what relationships are built on and how to treat women the right way. We must lead by example, for these kids are sponges. And even though I was on the line for 45 minutes with Pottery Barn for the 10th time because the bed we ordered was two months late, cursing the representative doesn't get me any further than where I started, because this kid is watching me. ALL. THE. TIME. And that's not the way I would want him to treat anyone. We must talk about death, as it is a part of life. And we need to openly discuss and work through all of the other tough stuff that happens in this world.
So, I guess what I'm saying is, I feel completely unqualified to talk about most of this, especially death, because when I've had to face a loss, my response was:
1) Go for sushi with an old friend and ugly cry for 2+ hours.
2) Immediately part ways with Grey's Anatomy.
3) Sleep with the lights on.
But, I am a mom -- which kind of makes me qualified to do everything. Slow clap.
This was my brief introduction. And though I barely made it through, I think my son left understanding what I was trying to communicate. Or something. I will aim to be more prepared, if that is at all possible, but I also kind of think that there is no one right way to attack this.
All we can do is openly and honestly talk to these boys and model for them good behavior, positive thoughts, and authentic feelings. We will grow and learn together. And, if we can arm them with all of the right information, they might just be able to teach their own kids a thing or two one day.
In loving memory of Dana Kraus.