My son is at the point of his young life where he is grappling with the enigma of mortality. He asks many questions about death. Who is dead that we know? Why did they die? Where are they now? He points out cemeteries and funeral homes as we drive along. I can remember when my daughter who is now 12 went through the process. She had an actual death to grapple with. My grandfather. I explained to her what had happened. I wanted to be as truthful as possible, but not upset her any more than necessary. I can distinctly recall being in the car with her talking about it. Car seat chat is excellent with toddlers and small kids. They are restrained and usually raring to discuss life's complexities. I told her what had happened to Papa, peering at her in the rear view waiting for reaction. She just sat there listening. At the end of my story I asked her if she had any questions. She did. She looked out the window for a minute and then said. "Where's his head?". I told her that we decided that it would be best to let him take it along with him. She nodded and asked me to hand her a pretzel.
We have not had much family tragedy as of late so Max is just sort of cruising along finding out about death on his own free time. He asks about my grandfather, often. I think it is because he is one of the only kids that did not have the chance to meet him before he passed away. He sees pictures and hears stories. A few weeks ago Max was messing around in our living room. A weird place for him to play because we never use the room, we have not purchased furniture for it yet. He heads downstairs after some time and retreats to the playroom. Later that night when we are headed to bed I go in there to turn off the light. There in the corner is this bizarre heap of...stuff. Strings of yarn tied to the chair that are attached to various things on the ground. A few feathers strewn about. A light saber fully extended lying on it's side with beads lined up along the shaft. A small wooden box with a rubber snake wrapped around it like a ribbon lies in the center of it all. I go to dismantle it, but something tells me this would be a bad idea. One that would cause much panic and dismay before pre-school tomorrow. I leave it be. The next morning he runs out of bed and heads directly into the living room. He straightens a few beads and moves on to another room.
C: "Max, what's the deal with all that stuff in the living room?"
M: "It's for Papa."
C: "Really? Um...why, buddy? Why did you make that for Papa?"
M: "Because he will like it, and it is a surprise for him."
C: "A surprise? Is he coming here?" (nononononopleasesayno)
M: Looks up at me, "No Mommy, that's silly, Papa is dead."
DUH. Duuuuuuuuh. He is dead. Geeez. What the hell is wrong with you, Mom? I just stood there for a few moments and gathered my thoughts. All I could think of is the wooden box tied with the rubber snake. I headed upstairs to survey the shrine. Harmless stuff, laid out in a strange pattern. I opened the box. It was filled with two rubber bands, a spider ring, and an old air freshener from the car I had thrown out three days ago. Grubby little kid was trash diving. I went back down and told him he'd have to take down the shrine. He of course pitched a fit yelling and screeching telling me he wanted to leave it up. I told the young Mr. Dreyfuss that he had two days to get his mashed potatoes out of the living room. He agreed two days was workable, and we shook on it. Two days later he moved the things back to where they were. No mention of Papa. My cats hang out in there now, right in the spot where the shrine was. They just sit and stare into the corner, awaiting instructions.