Tuesday, March 10, 2015


Ryan has been thinking about Death.

A few months ago, Ryan developed his own variation on the sort of "bang bang you're dead" games kids often play: instead of pretending to shoot his victim, Ryan touches you with the "dead finger" to "make you dead." He is the only one who has a Dead Finger - I can not "dead" him back. Victims are welcome to turn into zombies (sorry, "zomblies") and chase him around the house.

This week, Ryan asked us direct questions about Death and Dying. I have to pause here so you can really feel the weight of this: he asked us direct questions. Ryan has never before asked us anything that did not pertain to immediate needs (things along the line of "Can I have a snack?" or "Where are my pants?"). In nine-and-a-half years of parenting I have never had to field a single question about why the sky is blue or how planes stay airborne or where babies come from. Never.

Just to sit on this point a moment longer, Ryan not only asked us questions about Death and Dying, he also listened to our answers and asked follow-up questions. We have been having actual conversations. About something real and important.

It's both thrilling and terrifying.

This all started a few weeks after we read (and re-read, and endlessly quoted) a children's graphic novel called Bird and Squirrel on the Run. A cat keeps trying to eat a nervous squirrel and a carefree bird. Squirrel loses his stash of nuts and is afraid of starving to death during the winter, so he and Bird head out on an epic road trip - complete with theme song - south.

So from this delightful comic book, Ryan learned that one can die from not eating enough food.

Last week I was sewing my latest commissioned project - a series of items made from a flannel shirt. Ryan asked whose shirt it was, and I explained it had belonged to a man who had died.

"He died?" Ryan repeated. Then he asked, "Because he did not have enough food?"

I said I didn't know how he had died, but that he was very old.

Ryan then started trying to figure out how old one must be to die. I told him that people very rarely live more than 100 years.

At that moment my mother called. Ryan immediately asked her how old she is. Thankfully she had a sense of humor when I explained that Ryan was just trying to determine how close she is to death.

Highlights of his thought process on this subject:
- he does not want to be 100 and die;
- he is concerned that when we die there are no more people left on Earth;
- he doesn't like that death is permanent.

At one point this afternoon while he was freaking out about the matter of what happens after we die, I started to say, "Well, some people believe..." and he cut me off with "No, you will not say any more words about death."

Well, you're the one who brought it up, Kid.

This may be the closest thing to a typical parenting experience we've ever gone through. And it feels amazing.