Monday, December 3, 2012

On my daughter having a problem with death

I've been enjoying this blog's Facebook page as an alternative venue for sharing moments with my daughter on a more casual basis -- it really hits the spot when I just have a moment that I want to record and spread real quick-like. It's a great way to link up with friends and family and other readers who still aren't quite sure what this whole blogging thing is all about.

I have found, though, that some of the conversations I've been recording there are actually kind of special to me, and I want to get some of them back over here, since I think of this blog as a sort of keepsake to pass on to my daughter someday when she's old enough to care.

So, I've decided that every Monday I'll start sharing some of my favorite conversations/thoughts of the week from the Facebook page, with some additional analysis or a comic or whatnot. Here's this conversation from the past week, a follow-up to this post about death:

Last night as I was putting Addison to bed we had another conversation about death. 
Her: Daddy, tell me about dead. 
Me: Remember what mama told you? Dead is when your spirit leaves your body. 
Her: Oh. Tell me about that. 
Me: Well, sometimes people die. 
Her: Why? 
Me: Well, like getting squashed by cars when they aren't careful crossing streets. Or when meteors fall on them. 
Her: Oh. Makes people cry? 
Me: Sometimes it makes people sad. But it just means you hold each other a little closer when someone you love dies. 
Her (hugging me matter-of-factly): Like this? 
Me: (a little choked up): Yep. 
Her: Am I going to die? 
Me: Not anytime soon, I think. I want to keep you around for a while. But you've gotta hold my hand when we cross the street. And stop trying to climb the bookcases. 
Her: Okay. Let's talk about something else. 
Me: What? 
Her: Flounder and Ariel. 
Me: What about them? 
Her: A shark chases them and gets stuck, and Flounder sticks out his tongue like this, and goes PTHHHH" *Raspberry attempt* "and says, 'You big bully!' " 
*Addison laughs uproariously* 
Me: Okay. I love you. 
Her: I love you too. 
Me: Goodnight. 
Her: Goodnight.
A few days after the above conversation, we were in the car driving back from visiting family in beautiful Bakersfield, CA, and Addison put it this way to her grandmother:
Addison: I have a problem for you, Grammy. 
Grammy: What's the problem? 
Addison: What does dead mean?
It's interesting that (1) she's seriously and matter-of-factly interested in death; (2) she recognizes that it's a problem; and (3) she keeps presenting this problem to different adults in her life to see how we each respond. It's like she's trying to catch one of us in a lie. Or maybe it's that she's intuitively collecting different perspectives so that she can sift through them all and make a more balanced judgment on the subject. Yeah, that sounds pretty good. Kid's a philosopher.

As for her wording, earlier in the night she'd been whining about something while playing with a kid's version of a carpentry shop. Grammy had turned to her and said, "What's your problem, Addison?"

Apparently our two-year-old had spent the day pondering that question, really trying to figure out what her problem was, and finally made her decision. Death. Death is the problem.

The way she's internalizing these concepts both touches me and unnerves me. Am I the only one who thinks of Wednesday Adams with how fixated she seems to be on the subject? I'm worried that one of these days I'll find the kid in the garage with jumper cables and the neighbor's cat, trying to solve this problem of hers.


  1. Your daughter is awesome. I wanna say "don't sugarcoat it, explain it as matter-of-factly as possible, ie, your heart stops beating, etc" but who the f am I to tell you how to raise your kid. Good luck.

    1. Thanks Dave. Can't deny her awesomeness.

      I'm always conflicted about how much to give her, because in my conversations with adults I can't help crossing the line into full-on morbid and sometimes inappropriate humor. It makes me think of how funny it would be to dress up like a clown and hide in her closet one night...and how much it would end up costing me in therapy.

      With how much she asks about death, it's likely we'll have covered the risk factors of driving and owning swimming pools by her third birthday.

    2. I have to admit, Dave, I am a novice at this explaining-things-to-toddlers thing. In only our second conversation about death, I covered various injuries, babies stopping breathing (completely coincidentally I attended the funeral for an infant the week after she started with these death questions), and -- I'm sorry to say -- I veered slightly into brain death. (In my defense, I had just listened to a Radiolab episode telling this incredible story of someone who was presumed brain dead, but wasn't.) Perhaps this is why she's so troubled by the whole concept...

  2. She is a little philosopher. This is what happens when you have to extremely intelligent parents. By the way, this looks an awful lot like a blog post and I could've sworn we were only supposed to see these on Wednesdays???

    1. Yeah, well, (sheepish shrug). I couldn't help myself. My wife raised her eyebrow and asked the same question.

      But the way I explained it to her was that I was really just up-cycling some of the work on my Facebook page, and adding a *teeny-weeny* little bit of extra spice to kick it up a notch. Hardly anything to get in the way of date night. I swear. (In fact, we're seeing a movie tonight!)

    2. I like Dawn. She's always looking out for me! :) Don't forget my massages -- it's not just dates!

    3. Hmm. Massages. I'm going to have to start doing finger workouts at the gym. My fingers are weak, and it saddens and embarrasses me to admit it.

  3. My daughter had a thing about death after we saw a little dead bird. She talked about it a lot for a while. Then it passed and she went on to the next thing. I wouldn't have Wednesday Adams worries yet.

    1. The truth is, I partway WANT a little Wednesday. Because it would be very funny. Until it wasn't. And then it would be horrific.

  4. Don't get me wrong, I have no claim as to how to explain anything to anyone, other than the facts. Yeah, brain death, etc, brain death protocol, ya ya ya, corneal reflex, blah blah blah. I don't know. I guess asystole is the main thing. In any case, good luck. I remember briefly being obsessed with death and not wanting to die when I was around 4 and had just realized humans do in fact die. So maybe it's a common progression. But your daughter is still awesome and I reiterate my good luck wishes.

    1. No worries, no wrong-getting here. Best we can do is try what we try, and see how it turns out.

  5. I was very interested in death when I was little as well. I use to tell people who would ask what i want to be when i grow up that i wanted to be a mortician. haha. My parents were worried as well but i turned out mostly normal. Love the blog by the way.

    1. Thanks, Amie. I could deal with a "mostly normal" kid. All-normal would be pretty boring. Maybe even "partly normal" would be okay, too.

  6. This is certainly a tough subject, and, as you said, it's hard to know how much to share with this young set. Mine is about to turn 3. In 2012 (just as she's gaining an understanding of her world) we endured the death of four pets (two of ours, one of my sister's, and a close neighbor's), plus a person. Oh, man!!! As if our own two pets weren't bad enough, death just kept presenting itself, over and over and over again. Now she's totally obsessed, too, and asks about it all the time (the question about babies, too). She randomly starts telling strangers at the market about all the pets/people in her life who have died. I don't like to sugar-coat things, either, but with so many recurrences in a single year, I don't want to frighten her. Btw, Amie, as a kid I also thought that being a mortician would be cool. :) Horror paperbacks is all I read throughout junior high school and high school.

    1. That IS a lot all at once. Hard to say to a kid, "Death. It's everywhere. And ALL THE TIME. Anywhere you look: death. When you least expect it: death. Even those you love: dead."

      I wish you luck. I wish all of us luck.

      In some ways, I'm sure it's harder on us explaining it than it is on them receiving it. Except four pets and a person all at once is pretty intense.

    2. Right? Now every time I mention that someone is sick, I have to quantify their illness in terms of "meh, it's just a little cold," or "kind of really sick, but will get better in a few weeks," or "yes, really, really sick. Not sure what will happen. Hey, want a Junior Mint?" Sure, I've conveniently used some of these deaths as precautionary tales (like the cat who crossed the street before looking both ways), but I would really LOOOOOVE it if we could give the subject a break for a month. I suspect that that's not gonna happen.

      About a week ago, I jokingly compared someone to my father (her grandpa), by saying that so-and-so is "even older than Lito!" In a state of alarm, brow furrowed and wide eyed and everything, she inquired, "Is Lito OLD?!?" In other words, is Lito going to die right away, like our cat who was super old? Good Lord, NO, Lito is never going to die! NEVER!!! (Sigh).


  7. I think... it's better she thinks Death is the problem, than death is the solution.

    In any case I agree the concept of death is mind blowing.

    Life is even harder to quantify. Good luck on that one.

    1. I can't argue with that. Better one than the other. I think I'll let the schools teach her about life and death and I'll just teach her how to make rude sounds with a hand and her armpit.

  8. Maybe it was because I'm the youngest of four (so my parents had experience of explaining this) or maybe it was because of having various pets that died and had to be buried somewhere in the yard that I don't remember not understanding what 'dead' means. Maybe having something 'tangible' like the death of a pet is what kids understand at that age - something where you can say, "Remember Fluffy? Remember how one day he didn't leave his bed to eat his breakfast (severe sickness / old age) and later that day he didn't respond at all and then we buried him because he wasn't breathing? Well, when he didn't respond at all, that was because he was dead."

    1. Addison's never had a pet; but her grandpa died when she was about eighteen months old, and she internalized that even though we didn't particularly intend to use it as an object lesson. It'd be interesting to find some study concerning when kids understand death, and what it means for their developing psyches.