It is often very tricky to figure out exactly what children are asking. Sometimes they ask important questions that are veiled in very unimportant terms and much of the time it is very difficult to sort what exactly they want to know because they are talking about things outside their realm of experience. They don't have the life experience to understand many important issues so they simply don't know how to frame questions in a way that adults can easily understand. Yesterday Elli asked
"What would happen if you and Mommy got hurt?"
My ears perked up and my internal klaxon started whooping. Lights flashed and something in my brain shouted that we were about to have An Important Conversation. First off I have to figure out if she is asking about what first aid we would use if we both barked our shins, what happens after people die, if she wants to know who would take her to school if we both were very ill or something else entirely. I asked some questions and she rephrased her question to be
"What would happen if you and Mommy got hit by a car?"
Relief sets in. Now at least I know what she is trying to figure out - she wants to know what would happen to her if we both died. It is a tricky subject because I want to answer her question clearly but I also want to communicate how unlikely that situation is and I don't have a lot of attention span to work with. I reassured her that Mommy and I are not likely to die but that if that happened that her Nana and Papa would take care of her. She wanted to know yet more and asked if they would come to live in our house but seemed quite satisfied with the answer that she would go to live with them. She wanted lots of details about their flights, how they would get to the airport and how they would get from there to our condo and how she would get back to their house.
It amazes me that I was concerned about how to explain the concept of myself and Wendy dying but the thing that was really concerning her was what modes of transportation her grandparents would use to come and get her. I wonder what was going on in her head... she may have been worried about very simple things like how she would get food from the grocery store when food ran out, who would tuck her in at night or how she would get the front door of the condo open. The fact that all those things fall under the umbrella of 'You need an adult to take care of you' isn't necessarily obvious to someone her age and there may have been all kinds of interesting thoughts floating around in her head. I won't get to find out though because she seemed entirely satisfied with my answers and moved on to another topic, a flight of fancy about her imaginary sister if I recall correctly. Whatever secrets might have been there are now lost to us, which is a pity because I would love to know how someone so small thinks about these things.
Wendy and I are the sort of people who are entirely practical about these affairs; we have our wills in place and all the arrangements made ahead of time. It doesn't bother us to talk about these things at all and though obviously we would not view the real event of one of us dying with such cool, rational behaviour we approach those ideas with pragmatism.
"So, what would you want me to do if you died?"
"Well, I would expect you to grieve for awhile and then go out and find somebody else to get married to. You?"