all of the selves we Have ever been
Have you ever conversed with a preschooler?
I am awed by the profound questions they ask. And the questions are pure. They reflect a deep desire to know and to understand. Young children are truth seekers, and that can present some challenges for the average parent.
When my daughter was three, she asked me, “Mommy, where do the bad guys live?” Now, that’s a BIG question and a frightening one for the parent of a preschooler. The answer has only gotten more terrifying in the digital age. Twenty-five years later, my daughter now understands that the bad guys can live in your pocket, and through your phone, they can steal your identity and bleed your bank account dry. They can come into your toddler’s bedroom through a baby monitor, or ask Alexa to open the door to your house. But back then, she was just trying to understand the limits of her personal safety. With that typical preschool blend of concrete thought and magical thinking, she likely pictured a physical zone that separates the good guys from the bad. She just needed to understand the geography.
When my daughter was five and busy playing with Barbie dolls, she came into the kitchen to ask, ”Mom, whatever happened to Barbie’s mother?” Interesting question. In all of the years that I had loved and played with Barbie dolls, I had never thought of Barbie in the context of a family, that she might have a story other than the ones scripted for her by me or her wardrobe. Perhaps, my daughter was thinking about growing up—what happens to the mothers of grown-up girls? Are grown-up girls expected to ditch their mothers? Or maybe she wondered if mothers just disappear at some point in a girl’s life. Deep thoughts.
The tragic events of 9/11 took place during the school day. The school administration told the students that there had been a “national emergency,” and parents could be asked about it when the children got home. At 3:30 PM the backdoor flew open. My children were excited and impatient. “Mom, what’s the national emergency? What’s the national emergency?!” I tried to explain it as simply as I could, to be calm and reassuring. My bright seven year old son, said, “Mom, just tell me one thing. Will I live to see my eighth birthday?” His birthday was less than a month away. Somehow, his innocent young mind had grasped the significance of the day’s events.
Sometimes when there are no satisfactory answers, children come up with their own. Their ideas are limited by their life experiences and fueled by the enchanted thinking of early childhood.
After the death of his beloved grandmother, my then five year old son grappled with the question, “Why do people have to die?” We had many conversations about death and dying. Usually, it was at bed time that the question scrolled through his mind. One night, as Sam lay in bed, I sat beside him while he pondered the issue of death. Sam was determined to find a solution. People should not have to die. That was ridiculous. After much conversation, Sam determined that he would write a letter to Santa Claus as that was the only person Sam could think of who had managed to live forever. “That’s a great idea,” I said with relief. “We’ll do that tomorrow.” Sam snuggled down under the covers. I turned off the light, and just as the door was closing, I heard Sam yell, “Mom! Mom!” I entered the room and turned on the light. Sam was standing up on the bed his eyes dancing. “Mom, what if it’s the cookies?!”
Ah, a sweet solution. A globetrotting, cookie-munching Santa lives forever. I can see that in the science books.
I know a few folks who are testing the theory. We’ll see how it turns out.