My 5-year-old grandson had some big questions while visiting us during his Spring Break.
He started the inquisition by asking me when I thought I might die. He wanted a rough estimate for planning purposes. I was a little confounded. We were talking about Easter and death and rising from the dead, all mixed in with hunting eggs and serious discussions about the “real” Easter bunny versus the grandparents who hide the eggs in plain sight.
I told him I honestly didn’t know my death date, but it was far enough away that he didn’t have to worry about it. Because, it appears, he’s quite the worrier.
We then got on the topic of being left out. Some kids were excluding him on the playground, and I took it like an actual physical blow to the heart. When my own daughters were left out, I liked to remind them that you can’t be invited to everything, not everyone wants to be your friend, is there anything YOU might be doing that could make them feel bad. And so forth. Same with any teacher/kid dispute, I always had the teacher’s back. But when my grandson describes his hurt to me, I roar up on my mama bear hind legs, ready to hunt down these kids and pluck the candy out of their Easter baskets.
Seriously, I thought I was done with this kind of pain. The kind where you must let people you love find out that the world can be cold and cruel and sometimes, unfixable.
I don’t want him to find out that not everyone laughs at his chicken jokes like his grandfather and I do, uproariously and repeatedly. It’s not my job to peel off the wrapping of the world’s hurtful ways. I’m here to indulge, adore and listen to his troubles, not fix them. Plus, I couldn’t lessen the hard, cold truth of being human, even if I wanted to.
He starts kindergarten in the Fall, and I feel a cold sense of dread that he’s going to learn about active shooter drills at the same time he’s coping with finding out that not everyone wants to be his friend. Lumping those two together doesn’t make sense, as if one is the same as the other. When it’s not. But this little worrier has no idea how much there is to really worry about. And I would wish it all away if I could.
Still, the “Mimi” in me is so different from the mom in me that I sometimes find it hard to even buckle their car seats with the fear of doing it wrong. I see danger on every bike ride and feel an almost paralyzing fear that something could happen on my watch.
So, when we were at the beach a few weeks ago and he yelled, “SHARK!!” I took the time to sternly talk to him about crying wolf. “What if there really was a shark in the little lake you made with a bucket? Nobody would believe you,” I tell him. He’s confused because I’m the spinner of stories that include fantasy wolves that save the day and playgrounds made from Cadbury chocolate and swimming pools filled with, “not diet Sprite but the real Sprite.”
He seems to take to heart most of my solemn lessons, probably because they are so few and far between. But when he yelled SNAKE while playing basketball, barefoot, in the back yard, with his baby brother, I stomped out there, ready to retell Peter and the Wolf. Until I saw the actual copperhead slithering at the edge of the court, agitated by these wild boys.
I scooped up nearly 80 pounds of boys and scurried to the house, moving faster than I have in a long time.
“Good calling, ‘snake!’” I told him, once I could stop with the adrenaline shakes.
“I thought you would like to know about it,” he said, looking at me, waiting for my reaction.
He saved the day with his quick thinking, and I told him how much I admired his bravery and quick reactions.
Life in that moment was perfect. It was not going to be anyone’s death date that day, not even the snake’s.