Wednesday, October 24, 2012

What does dead mean?

Posts for the next week are going to be Halloween themed. Mostly because Halloween is a pretty great holiday. I don't mean in the Friday the 13th or commercial aspect, but more like if you take spookiness in a more literary direction, along the lines of Edgar Allan Poe or Coleridge or Hawthorne or more recently, something like Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. Before I lose my train of thought and start talking about books (that's what my other blog is for), let me just get to the point:

My toddler just starting asking us about death. Perhaps it's because the house next door has a pretty intense Halloween setup, full of mummies in caskets with separated limbs, and huge spiders, and skeletons and gravestones. What am I supposed to say when she points to each and says, "What's that, dada?" I'd like to start in on The Raven or The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, but something (my wife) tells me she's not ready.

She might also have learned the "death" concept from her Gramps, who reads her stories like Snow White and says "the dwarfs thought she was dead," instead of "the dwarfs couldn't wake her up" or "the dwarfs wanted to help her because they thought she had an owie."

In any event, here she is, asking her question, which she finishes off with a very emphatic declaration that she knows what she's asking and she will NOT be put off with half-way answers or chuckles and a bait and switch:

My wife fielded the question, which involved saying that "dead" is when a spirit leaves someone's body. Reasonable answer, and it didn't involve dessicated bodies unearthed from thousand-year-old tombs, or decapitated grinning skulls (she already gets enough of that from watching Fantasia). In a few years, however, I do look forward to introducing her to the concept of mostly dead. Quality entertainment will be had.

Since that conversation, we've been selectively pointing out things that are dead. Today, it was the tarantula at the pet store. It was curled up on its back, legs pulled in tight like the clenched fist of a skeleton. At dinner Addison told me, "That 'pider at the pet store was dead." Then she turned her sad little eyes up at me and said mournfully, "I yuv that 'pider so much."

I wonder if it would make her feel better about how many living 'piders there are in the world if I explained how many crawl over her body at night. Shudder. My protective fatherly impulses feel impotent when struck with the reality that 'Piders. Are. Everywhere. 'Tis the season to be creeped out.