This morning, Bea asked me “Trinity go?” (as in, where did she go) and started going from room to room, throwing her hands up and asking for her. It’s been exactly one week, almost to the moment, since we lost her. I didn’t have the Internet right in front of me to consult with the plethora of unreliable web sources telling me how to address death with a two-year-old. So I said, “She went to sleep. Forever.”
“Well, yes. Like, she went to sleep and won’t wake up.”
“Trinity go, sleeping?” In other words, where did she go to sleep.
I said somewhere else, where we wouldn’t see her anymore.
I didn’t want to leave open the possibility of visiting Trinity or the idea that she might come back. I don’t think Bea even understands what any of that means, but she has stopped asking. For now.
On Wednesday, we got a sympathy card in the mail from the vet. That was pretty gut-wrenching and Charlie didn’t even want to look at it. I hid it on a shelf with some other things I have that will eventually go into a photo album, when everything isn’t so fresh and painful.
After looking around online afterward, just to see what sources suggested, I found advice running the spectrum — you should show your kid the animal’s body and explain that s/he is dead and will go in to the ground to feed plants; you should tell them the animal went to a farm and is going to live there forever; you should tell them the animal is in heaven, playing with [a list of other people the kid may or may not know who have died]; you should never speak of it again.
I’m not sure I handled it the best way possible, but I certainly wouldn’t have said anything I read online.
This is the kind of situation that brings up questions for me as to how I’ll address other topics: religion, Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy. Charlie doesn’t want her to be “that kid” — the one who tells all the other kids in her class that there’s no Santa. I also don’t particularly see the value in making up stuff like that. I get that some people believe Christmas is supposed to be magical for children and perpetuating the Santa business keeps it special, but I think it’s bullshit.
Of course, the people who primarily will be responsible for her education are going to be perpetuating this business. I can’t stop elementary school teachers from telling Bea that “pilgrims and Indians” sat around a big table and had turkey, any more than I can expect her not to believe it. I can attempt to redirect her, and give her the tools to make logical conclusions about what is or isn’t real, based in fact, and how these stories evolved through time.
Along with creating and encouraging these myths, there’s going to come a time when those myths are destroyed and the kid feels his or her innocence or childhood is lost. No Santa? No Tooth Fairy? No Easter bunny? Why did you lie to me?
Most of those legends, to me, are Hallmark creations. I mean, obviously, they are based on a variety of myths from a variety of places, people, and religions. But, as we celebrate them today, in the US, they’re so far removed from their original meaning, I don’t think most people could tell you what a fir tree has to do with a fat guy in your chimney. These stories are pushed to sell more candy, toys, and greeting cards. Why (or how) in the world I would encourage my daughter to dye boiled eggs and then try to wrap it in to a story about how Christians believe Jesus was resurrected is beyond me.
I know this is probably not a very popular opinion, and I know that, being super straightforward and brutally honest with children backfires. They resent you for leaving them out, for making them the weirdos at school who let it slip first, or for just missing out on the opportunity to be like everyone else.
I haven’t put much thought into choosing my battles. I know I can’t very well say there’s no Easter bunny while putting presents under a tree from “Santa.” The holidays and events without omnipotent beings seem a little easier. Other than the “Great Pumpkin,” there’s not a Halloween spirit telling kids they have to behave. Is there a way I could address these creatures without turning her into the little shit that ruined Christmas for all the kids in her school?
It all just smacks to me of monotheistic religions that promote a powerful authority figure that rewards and punishes us for our behavior. My background in psychology and understanding of child development tells me that we all have to go through stages that will eventually (hopefully) lead us to make decisions based on what is right and what is wrong, morally and ethically, as opposed to “because mom and dad said so,” or “because God will punish/not reward me.”
I don’t want to affect her development by putting too much pressure on her to be logical when she’s too little. I just want her to know how much BS people feed other kids (and themselves), while keeping it to herself.
Most likely, I’ll be like every other parent, cave, and propagate all that stuff, despite my better judgment, because it’s just easier.