Pickle is 4.5 years old. I’ve already fielded some tough questions. Why is the sun hot? Why are grandmas called grandmas? Did they have to cut you to get the baby in your tummy? Why do we have seasons? But today’s question was the hardest.
Pickle was sitting in the rear row of the minivan, gazing out the window. The heat was cranked up, since the thermometer read “12” and Frozen was playing loudly (per Plum’s request, of course).
“Why do people die?” he asked.
“WHAT?!” I yelled. It was hard to hear his soft voice over the heater vents and Idina Menzel.
“WHY DO PEOPLE DIE?” he yelled back.
I paused. I turned down the radio, and the heat.
“Are you worrying about that?” He nodded. “Pickle, all living things die. I know that sounds scary, but it is just the way the world works.”
“Well, cars aren’t alive, but cars break and stop, and their parts wear out. Just like our parts can wear out or stop. Remember how I told you about Grandpa Harvey? How his heart broke, and they couldn’t fix it? How they couldn’t make it better?” He nodded again.
I looked in my rearview mirror. He was thinking.
I wanted to be honest. I wanted him to know about the bad things, the bad people, the sadness, but I want him to love this life, to live fully and freely and to be happy despite those things. I wanted him to know that maybe there is a heaven, that maybe there isn’t. I wanted him to know that there are things I don’t know. Though at 4 years old, I’m sure he is comforted by the fact that I probably know everything. Because moms and dads do.
His brow furrowed. “Will it hurt?” he asked, lip trembling.
“Will it hurt when you die?” He nodded. “Pickle, I don’t know. I don’t know what it is like to die. I know that sometimes it hurts, and sometimes it doesn’t. But I do know that you have a very long time to live before that. Maybe even a hundred years.” I hoped with all of my heart that I was telling him the truth.
I wasn’t sure, after the very normal morning we’d had, why these thoughts were running through his head.
I wanted to comfort him. I am the fixer, after all. I am the mom. According to Pickle, I am even “a little bit magic.” I can tell him when he’s going to throw up. I know when he has thwacked his sister, even if he has denied it. I know where his misplaced toys are, the t-shirt he wants to wear. I know things. I’m the mom. It’s what we do.
“Pickle, I wish I had better answers for you. I wish I knew why we died, or if it will hurt. But I don’t know. All I know is that you have a lot of things left to do. You’ll play basketball, you’ll learn to drive. You can grow up big and tall like Dad, you can get married and have your own babies if you want. Do you think you might want to do that?”
He paused, took a breath, and caught my eye in the rearview mirror. “Yeah,” he said nodding, mind made up, “I think I want to do that.”