We’ve been navigating a lot of death-talk with the middle-little lately. I’ve always been of the opinion that we can’t shield our kids from everything. I decided a long time ago that the best way to deal with sensitive conversations is with a slightly filtered brand of honesty that will prepare them for the world we live in without leaving any permanent scars on their psyche. Now, if you know me personally or you’ve been here a while, you know that “filtered”, even slightly, is not my usual.
When the middle-little came home last week with something special from school, she knew it needed to go straight to the fridge. Our refrigerator is a hodge-podge collage of photos, drawings, calendars, reminders, and margarita recipes. It’s where we keep the important stuff. This particular artwork didn’t make it across mom’s lap before it hit the fridge, and I’ll be honest when I say I didn’t notice the addition to our gallery until a couple of days later. I was filling my water glass and thinking about margaritas when I saw it.
Let me start by explaining, I love Fall. I love the colors and the crispiness and the quiet. I love when we get to light the fireplace again, and I love when my kids bring home leaf artwork. I also love poetry. I’m a total nerd. I have books and books of poetry on my shelf. I love to read it, write it, dissect it. I read too much into song lyrics, and I write in rhymes even when I don’t want to. You can imagine my excitement when I found that the middle-little had written a poem on her leaf artwork. It started with a prompt. “If I were a leaf…”, then five or so lines followed underneath for our sweet third graders to fill in with their own little words.
“If I were a leaf… I could drown in a puddle and see the world.”
Okayyyyyy… My first impression? That’s super dark and I like it. My second thought? That’s a very strange thing for a third grader to write. I called her dad into the room to look at it. He read it and laughed.
“She is you.”
So I’m gathering that it’s up to me to talk to her about this since apparently I’m the reason she’s all dark and twisty. Ok, then. I called her into the room.
“Heyyyyyy there little serial killer..”
Just kidding. I would never say that to her face. She scares me.
“Hey! I like your leaf art! Tell me about your poem.”
“What about it?”
“Ya know… the drowning thing…?”
“Lots of leaves die that way.”
“Ok, yes. This is true. What about the rest?”
“The rest of the leaves?”
“The rest of the poem…”
“The leaves probably go to Heaven”
“Then they see the world.”
She skipped her merry self right out of that kitchen. Just as I thought. It’s a little dark and I like it. I didn’t push the issue. I figured she must have seen something on Netflix that made her think about dying or the life cycle of a leaf, or who really knows what they’re watching on that thing anyway… What am I, their keeper? I kept the leaf art on the fridge because it’s my favorite thing ever, but I didn’t ask about it again.
A few days later, I had a friend pick my kiddos up from school for me. I had an appointment and would be pushing time to get back for pick up. I got a text a few minutes after she got home with them.
“Uhhhhh… Your daughter.”
“Which daughter and what did she do?”
“The big one just asked me if I ever think about the fact that if the water tower falls down I’ll be the first to die”
“Well… do you?”
Maybe she is my kid. We’re both morbid and dark and twisty. Did I talk to her about it? Nah. Why would I? Should I try to better understand her? I don’t think that’s possible. Should I correct her? I wouldn’t have her any other way.
I think the greatest gift we can give our children is to celebrate them just as they are. This isn’t as easy as it sounds. Some parents have trouble even accepting the quirks, let alone loving them. What about taking it a step beyond that? Celebrate them. I wrote the middle little a birthday card a couple of years ago. If I’m being honest, I didn’t even put two minutes into it. I wrote it in a hurry, and didn’t think much of it. She has had it propped up on her nightstand ever since and loves to read it back to me sometimes. She treasures it. Want to know what it says?
“Happy 7, sweet thang. We are so excited to get to spend another year with you. We love your generous heart and your crazy brain and every other perfect piece of you. You are so so special, and we are so so lucky.”
It was simple. It was a quick note I didn’t plan. She looks at it every night and just fully treasures it. It’s her favorite possession. She feels seen. She feels celebrated. Is she dark and twisty? Sometimes. Is she sweet and generous? Always. Would I change a thing? Absolutely not.
Maybe a little death talk isn’t the worst thing. Maybe it serves to remind us that life is short. Especially for a leaf. Happy Fall, Y’all. Stay weird.