I drove Laila to school this morning. She’s 5.
“Wanna listen to my phone music, Daddy’s music or NPR?”
I turned it on. A Russian political dissident is dead, poisoned as he took tea at a London hotel.
I turned it down.
“Turn it up I can’t hear!” Laila demanded. “I’m tryin’ to hear the news!”
I let her listen to the rest of the report.
A few questions followed, like:
“Tea doesn’t kill people. How did his tea kill him?”
“He was poisoned by Vladmir Putin.”
“Who is he? Why did he poison him?”
“He’s the president of Russia, a country far away. He does away with his enemies because he’s a big fat bully who wants to stay in power. So he put poison in the man’s tea and killed him. In theory, in our country, the U.S., you can say what you want without being afraid. That’s what being free means.”
I should probably just lie to Laila, but instead I blurted out the truth (Well, a sanitized version of it. NSA spying. US killing challengers to its puppet leaders in foreign countries? Hello!) Laila’s earnest curiosity spills out in the form of questions. She wants to understand the world. She’s got little pitchers and big questions.
I turned a different report down on a car ride weeks ago because it was about dead Syrian children.
I don’t get it. How do you keep your kid innocent and teach street smarts at the same time? What questions do you answer and when do you change the topic? I don’t know, so this morning I just gave her the facts.
Laila notices things. A lot of things. She thinks things through.
When I picked her up from school one day, she ran to me and reported a man at the fence had tried to talk to the group of girls she’d been standing with.
Laila only heard the part of the phrase that went like this: “…KILL YOU.”
Had my little fantasist made this up? I checked with her schoolmates. Another girl standing there confirmed that the man was there, any way.
I talked to Laila about “Stranger danger” and I threw a huge fit about the slow-to-nonexistent response from her school. My scary mommy meaneuvers resulted in a school-wide stranger danger presentation.
I have no idea.
This is what I told my daughter:
“If a man or woman tries to call you over alone, like near the fence at at school, or out of our yard, don’t listen, even if they say ‘Help!'” I said. “Run for an adult you know right away. Yell as loud as you can. They could be lying to try to get you, maybe even hurt you or take you away from us.”
“Because not everybody is good, Laila.”
It crushed me a little to tell her that.
“But what if they use mind control!?” she blurted out.
I told her the other day to go play upstairs with her Calico Critters and her Mary Ellen doll.
“Mom, the Calico critters are hybernating and Mary Ellen is sick. She needs to stay in bed and rest up for her birthday party tomorrow.”
I borrowed a DVD from my friend about Abe Lincoln – I mean, he’s like, one of our fave historical figures.
She sat, enrapt by the historically accurate cartoon about Lincoln and the Civl War.
“War is when at least two opposing sides battle to the death or until someone surrenders because they disagree over something, like a philosophy, or a religion, or one side wants what the other has, like land.”
“People are DEADED?”
“But why do they kill each other?
“That’s just war. It’s not so great. Better to talk things through, with rare exceptions.”
“Someone is assasinated is killed over something they believe, usually?”
“Who deaded Lincoln?”
It went on for days.
Yesterday Laila asked to watch the Abe movie again.
Laila is obsessed with death. She’s daughter of a reporter (hi!) who feels more at home at a homicide scene than a kid’s birthday party, so that sounds about right.
Eli’s hospital stay had her ruminating.
First she contemplated his PICC line, an IV with a port at the end that travels all the way up his arm inside his body, then down around his shoulder and ends at the top of his heart.
She cried about it.
“He’s cute the way he is! I don’t want him to have a tube in his body!”
Days later, Laila blurted out to Mark as he made dinner:
“I wish Grandma Grandma was fresh again.”
Grandma Grandma is Mark’s 96-year old grandma, Laila’s great grandma. She’s not doing well now. We haven’t told Laila that. She picked up on it by overhearing Mark on the phone with his parents.
“I don’t want to get old, ever,” she told Mark. “Is your hair going to turn gray?”
She next decreed that only the hair of boys turns gray. Not girls’ hair.
“OK sweetie. Sounds good to me,” I lied.
Then she said “I miss Gigi. I miss Ms. Shannon.”
Gigi is my mom, who died in 2010 a year and a half after a stage 4 esophageal cancer diagnosis. Ms. Shannon is her dance teacher, who died last year after a short battle with uterine cancer.
Next came: “I miss the girl who swallowed a battery.”
Oh @#$ had I told her about that little girl, the Oklahoma 2-year old who died after swallowing a silver button battery? Ugh, right. Laila caught me reading the news on my phone. When she asked who the little girl was, I gave it to her straight.
She’s not asked the question I dread the most about Eli’s disease, cystic fibrosis.
“Will he die?”
She knows that he has CF and she knows what it is from the books we’ve read. But they are children’s books that don’t cover the fact it’s fatal illness. (Hate that word, fatal. Life-threatening is misleading, though, if you ask me). The median age of life is 42. A lot of CFers I follow on social media seem to need lung transplants in their 20s.
What will I say when she asks about death and her brother’s disease?
It will probably be something like “Everyone who is born dies one day, disease or no disease.”
At some point, I know she’ll want to know more. That won’t be enough.
I don’t know now and I won’t know until she asks if I’ll have the heart to tell my daughter my son’s disease is life-ending.
The truth is that we don’t don’t know if his disease will be cured and made maneagable, like diabetes or asthma, during Eli’s life.
For now, the answer to that future question is hopeful and open-ended.
That’s the truth.