It was a big month for us – we moved, found out the gender of our baby, and J had his first experience with death at his great, great uncle’s funeral. I tried to explain Uncle D’s death the best I could, telling the little guy that Uncle D had a very long, good life. I wanted to reassure him that even though our loved one’s body had died, this wasn’t necessary “the end” and his soul could be living on in heaven or other worlds or entering new lives. To this, of course, J’s three-year-old mind responded with a barrage of questions—Why did he die? Where is he? Can we dig him up? Is he in the dirt? Can we pull him out? Can a tractor get him out? Is his body together? Can he still talk? What is a soul?—and no matter how many I answered, he kept coming at me with more, and then looping back to repeat the same questions again, as if my answers were leading us backwards, which began to make me feel a bit lost myself, with a growing sense of panic inside as I wondered where this “important life lesson” was going, until I finally solved this growing dilemma with three wonderful words: “Go ask daddy.”
The hardest question of all came about a week later: “Am I going to die, mommy? Are you?!” It was like someone slicing my heart in half or pouring ice water down my back. Not for a very, very, very long time, I said, scooping him up in a big hug. I tried again to explain that souls may live on, which means we would be together forever in a sense, reassuring myself as well as him. “What’s a soul?” He asked again, never quite satisfied with my answer.
One morning J said that he saw Uncle D in space. He said, “He was not a papa or grandma or uncle but a kid! He’s one years old and I get to hold him!” That same week he pointed to an apple on the ground that was decomposing and said that he saw Uncle D eating that apple. At random times, he continued to ask about the whereabouts of Uncle D, one night informing me that he might be “really, really, really far away.
As we said goodbye to one life, we welcomed another, finding out in the midst of all of this, whether we would be having another boy or a girl. The night before our big appointment, J said, “We are going to find out if it’s going to be a baby or a daughter.” (I wondered if this meant that he was hoping I could pop out a nine-year-old girl to play with him, like one of his cousins.) He asked, “Mommy, can the baby peak out of your mouth?” This drew an incredibly strange image into my mind and I burst out laughing. “Babies are crazy!” he said, laughing too, and in a silly voice said, “They put on their hat and say, ‘that’s not perfect!’” Then he said, “Are you thinking about what I’m thinking about?” What? I asked. “A giant Optimus Prime!” I had no idea how our conversation had landed us here. Finally, at the hospital, J wasn’t too interested in the ultrasound pictures, but when it was time to leave, he went screeching down the hallway in excitement and at one point shouted, “A second boy!” (Yep, we are having another boy!)
While processing all this, we were also in the midst of moving which we all know can be exciting and wonderful, yet can also be incredibly stressful and create a sense of total upheaval. Thankfully, it was a short distance move—less than forty miles—but still significant, especially in the life of a three-year-old. J wanted to know why our new town “didn’t have stairs” (until this point we had always lived in an apartment or duplex with stairs) and when we could we see his best friend, JY, from Santa Barbara, who lived much, much further away than forty miles.
One afternoon, after most of the boxes had been unpacked, life began to feel normal again. J collected acorns in our new backyard, dug a hole, found a good “hiding spot,” and met a neighbor friend. He told another joke that did not make sense: “Knock-Knock?” Who’s there? “Me.” Me, who? “That’s what I’m talking about!” He asked his dad, “When I grow up can I be a giant and a firefighter?” Yes, his dad said, a giant firefighter would be very helpful, which was a response that made me laugh for some reason. His dad asked him what he would like to say to the baby, and J said in a quiet, serious voice, “I love you.” He touched my belly gently with his little hand, as if welcoming the little soul, who was, perhaps, not very new after all—but a papa or a grandma or an uncle or a kid from really, really, really far away.