Driving Me to Think
After the kind of arts-and-crafts filled preschool birthday party all but stereotypical of middle-class parents, “Lily” stood outside the open back door of my car, took one look at me in the driver seat, and forced herself into a half-hearted scream. Whether this was some sort of show of displeasure at having to ride home in a different car than she came in, or whether it was simply what she believed was expected of her as a four-year-old developing her own independent thinking, Mommy wasn’t having it. “This behavior is not acceptable” she calmly told the child, who immediately ceased her performance. Then there was quite a bit of fussing over securing the car seat and the entire buckling in process, but soon we were off.
Mommy sat right next to Lily in the back seat and held her tiny hand. She struck me as kind of overly doting, which made me a bit uncomfortable for some reason I couldn’t really identify. It was almost as if she was desperate for the child to like her. “I think it’s SO GREAT that you notice those kinds of things” she praised Lily, who had just pointed out how the logo of my vehicle was like that of theirs. Mommy hadn’t really seen the connection at first, and Lily didn’t quite have the vocabulary to explain it; so I chimed in that I understood what Lily meant and explained for her how the logos were basically identical except for the font.
As a special treat, that evening Lily was to be allowed to stay up an extra half hour and watch Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. I interjected to ask where Mommy was able to obtain DVDs of the classic children’s show, but she confessed that she had found it on YouTube. Mommy and I both explained to Lily about the show and how great Mr. Rogers was and how we had grown up with him too. We were speaking back to each other about the documentary about him and how meaningful it is when, perhaps sensing our nostalgia, Lily suddenly asked, “Mommy, what happens when people die?”
For parents, this is one of those big questions — along with “Where do babies come from” and “Is Santa Claus real” — that you have to be always prepared for. The question will come from the child when he or she is ready to have that discussion, and it may not necessarily be “a good time” to have it when eventually the child asks. Mommy had certainly known this because without even drawing a breath she began, “Some people believe…”
It was a beautiful moment between a child and a parent and I felt privileged to be witness to it. Also, I immediately thought of this:
However, despite Mommy’s preparation and no doubt years of planning what to say, her speech was cut off before it really even began. Lily had already decided that she was going to believe that when you die, “it’s going to be like Coco”.