Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Tough Questions

Sometimes, we forget that Zoe isn't actually a teenager what with her vocabulary, sense of humor and intelligence. She watches us and the world around her so carefully and she really does take it all in. My little girl has an old soul. I remember thinking it as I watched her sleep as a newborn. I remember telling her not to grow up too fast when she slammed her door on me and quickly turned on her radio and cranked it loud; she was, after all - barely one year old.

I worry sometimes, (like I'm sure all parents do) about how much she is like me. I witness her sensitivity on a daily basis. I see her eyes well up quickly if she accidentally makes a mess or if her little brother picks on her. I worry that I've let her see me cry too many times and that I've made her feel less than safe.

Our accident of course comes to mind here. I can still hear myself screaming and crying as that truck hit us. I wonder if she remembers? I wonder if she feels the same fear I do that it will happen again? I can't go back and change my reaction to that event, I know - but I can't help but wonder if I damaged her that day.

A year ago tomorrow, Zoe's Grandpa Rick passed away suddenly. I remember where I was when I got the news. I had Finn with me and we had just picked up Zoe at preschool. I'd missed a call from Daniel's mom and I quickly called her back once I had the kids loaded into their car seats. I stayed as calm as I could on the phone, trying to be strong for Daniel's mom and trying not to scare the kids, but when I hung up and realized what I'd just been told and that I'd need to tell Daniel - I lost it. My hands shook and I cried as I called Kristina, Meg, and then my own father to tell them the news and to ask for help.

The kids didn't get what was happening. Finn was not quite 2 and Zoe 3 and a half. We tried to explain it as best we could though, that Grandpa was watching over us now and that we didn't get to see him anymore. A year later, I don't know that we've figured out a better way to explain it. I just know that Zoe is extremely curious about what it all means. Death. Most of the time, she doesn't understand the finality of it. Sometimes though, her questions lead to whether or not Daniel and I will ever go away and not come back. We struggle with this because we don't want to lie to her - so we tell her that we'll be with her as long as she needs us and that even then we'll always be close by. Sometimes I give in and I tell her very definitively: "No. I will never, ever leave you." She usually follows this conversation up with "Will you always keep me safe? No matter what? What if there's a fire? Will you save me?" These aren't the questions you really prepare yourself for when you become a parent. They are hard, scary questions, but I know they're even scarier for her.

She didn't do well with me being in rehearsals for Hay Fever and going to my performances was just as difficult because it broke our nighttime routine that she and I have. She was very emotional and told me repeatedly that she was worried I might not come back. I know she needs to learn that it's OK for me to leave and that I'll be back... but it didn't make it any easier for us to have her go through that. I felt very difficult for taking time away from my family to do something for me when it affected Zoe the way it did. Of course I want to make everything better and have her feel secure and safe.

This afternoon, Zoe and Daniel were talking about dinosaurs. I don't know the exact specifics of their conversation, but I guess she wanted to know where they went - why we don't see dinosaurs anymore. Again, I don't know exactly what happened, but Daniel told her that the dinosaurs got old and died. And this of course led to how everyone dies. "Even babies?!" Zoe asked. Seeing that this conversation had exploded into something we were not wanting to tackle during lunch, Daniel quickly told her no, not babies. Babies grow up and old and live happy lives before they die. The subject was dropped and it was like we'd dodged a bullet. Hooray! But if you know my daughter (or me) you know that her calm acknowledgement of this explanation was out of character. Moments later she was sobbing because Daniel was heading back to work. We quickly distracted her and calmed her down before he left and again I thought we were in the clear. Crisis averted.

Crisis NOT averted. Twenty minutes later Zoe looked at me - her eyes were welling up fast.

"Are you going to get old soon?"
"Not for a while yet. I'm still young."
"Are Nana and Baba and Grammy old?"
"They're older than Mommy and Daddy."
"Are they going to die soon?"
"No, honey. Not soon. Let's not worry about that."
"You're going to leave me. You're going to get old and leave me. We all die! I don't want to get older. I don't want to grow up! I don't want to die, I'm scared!"

Meanwhile, her little brother (who does not understand but is picking up on the repetition of a certain word) begins shouting "Die! Die! You're going to die. We're going to die. Zoo-ey, don't cry. We die! Ya!" He thinks he's cheering her up. He thinks he's saying something very funny, but doesn't get why she's not laughing at him and why I'm very calmly but firmly asking him to "Please, stop."

I called Daniel. One, she needed to be comforted by both of us. She needed both of our reassurances. And two, hell if I was going to deal with this one on my own. I'm not the one who said everyone dies (even if it is completely true). Together we did what we could to calm her down. I held her on my lap and told her it was going to be OK, that we didn't need to worry and Daniel told her the same thing from speaker phone. I wiped her tears away and we quickly changed the subject to Halloween decorations (ours went up shortly after we hung up with Daniel) and cookies and milkshakes. Yay, milkshakes!

She and Finn are napping now and I'm trying to breathe. Trying to recover from a highly dramatic afternoon with tough questions from an almost 5 year old. I don't remember being this afraid when I was her age. I don't remember being aware of things like death and tragedy. All I know is I want to make everything better. I want her to feel safe and secure. I want to know that I'm not somehow screwing up.

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