Wednesday, December 15, 2010
Parenting is full of hard questions. Until recently Jack was content to talk about subjects but not really question the specifics of how or why. Folks, things have changed. Between trying to explain where the dinosaurs went, why Jack doesn’t have a daddy, and when Santa Claus is coming we’ve been up to our eyeballs in tricky topics. Really, our problem is self inflicted having decided before Jack was born that we would NEVER lie to our children. Cue to November 2009 when we realized that Santa was a heck of a bargaining chip and all our ideals began to crumble. But while Santa Claus seems pretty innocuous, I will admit to squirming a bit on trying to answer questions about death, extinction, family composition, and other recent topics without inflicting some kind of lifelong trauma.
By far the hardest questions Jack has been asking me lately have been about Greta. We have talked with Jack about Greta in the past. He was content with the explanation that Greta got hurt when she was a baby in mommy’s tummy, and because of that she needs more help learning how to do things (roll over, walk, use her hand, clap, etc.). Until recently he seemed to accept this as a part of our family narrative and (bonus) as a reason to be more gentle with Greta and take on the role of her helper at times.
However, lately he has been asking a lot more questions. Early morning or late at night are times when Jack turns particularly introspective. This also happens to coincide with times when I’m under-caffeinated or over tired and thus less articulate than I would like to be. This morning in particular marked a low point in parenting when Jack (after seeing a diaper commercial featuring newborns) said, “Greta was hurt when she was born”. I responded, “Yes Jack, you are right”. He said, “Remember when Greta went to the hospital?”. I said “I do”. He said, “Now she can walk”. I said, “That’s right, she can”. He said “Her hand doesn’t work right, it’s like this (making a tight fist)”. I said, “That’s true, but she works hard to use that hand, and I know you try to help her”. Note: by now I’m starting to sweat, this is a long conversation to have at 6am and it doesn’t seem to be heading anywhere good. Jack said, “I think her arm and leg is still broken”. I said, “They aren’t broken but they do work differently. You know how Greta walks different?”. Jack said “yeah”. Then a pause, a long pause. “I think Santa will fix Greta”.
Oh no, now I’m crying (what can I say folks, did I mention this was at 6 in the morning and he was wearing footed PJs and bathed in the glow from our xmas tree, and looking oh so sweet and certain?). I try to hide my tears from Jack and say, “Santa is a great guy, and I’m sure he’ll bring Greta some special things but he doesn’t really do that”. “No Mommy, Santa comes and then Greta will jump with glee!” (I kid you not, he actually said “jump with glee” I’m guessing this is something he got from school?) “We will listen for the reindeer on the roof and come downstairs and Greta will open her hand like this (holds hand open) and jump like me”. All I could muster was a weak, “I don’t know buddy but I’m glad you are so excited about Christmas” with tears rolling down my face. Jack asked “why are you crying mommy Jess?” and I said, “Because I just love you so much, Mommy’s do that sometimes, isn’t that silly?”. Though fuzzy in my recollection I think we then began a heated negotiation on breakfast, donuts vs. yoghurt, with donuts winning.
What I wanted to say was that I was crying because I still hurt when I think about what happened to Greta for such complicated and nuanced reasons that it would be impossible to explain to a four year old let alone myself. That contemplating wishing for Santa to “fix” Greta isn’t really how I would put it, but asking Santa to make everything okay again does have its appeal, if only things were so simple. That I have been trained by a million folk stories and fables to know that wishing for things always has a price (It’s a Wonderful Life people, ever seen it?) and I’m not willing to bargain with my beautiful family, but even in this place of unstable peace I have painstakingly created for myself I can still get shaken by the “what ifs” and the “whys”.
So Greta, Merry Christmas baby! You have accomplished so much this year I’m pretty sure Santa is ready to blow it out for such a lucky little girl as yourself. Tears are complicated, wishes even more so. So on Christmas morning I know you’ll “jump with glee” in your own way and I’m looking forward to seeing that more than you can imagine. And my Christmas wish is not to turn back the clock or change the way you are, it is only for peace. Peace for you, peace for me, peace for everyone and peace for the world. Got that Santa?
P.S. and if any of you kids ask me where babies come from in the next 30 days I’m going to have a nervous breakdown, or at least take up drinking.