Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Hard questions

A little over a week ago, Bean-girl stood on the bottom step of our staircase, sippy cup of milk in hand, and declaimed:

I think my Daddy will not come tonight because of a thunderstorm, and so he will stay in his hotel room and I miss him very much. And I know that you [here she gestured to me] miss your husband.

It was a snowstorm, not thunderstorm, which shut down Midwestern airports and threatened to keep her father from returning that weekend. Return he did—through a circuitous route involving a re-routed flight to Chicago, a rental car and 90-mile per hour midnight driving. I’m paraphrasing what she said, but that was the gist of it.

In the single week that he was gone, my husband claims that both children noticeably grew and changed. It’s easy to see the changes in Baby Legume—in that short week she learned to clap her hands, pull herself up to standing, and easily sit up by herself from a prone position. The changes are harder to see in Bean-girl. Husband claims that Bean-girl grew more articulate in his absence, and he cites her above speech (which I repeated to him) as evidence of this. She is learning about the relationships between people: that her daddy is not just Daddy, but also my husband. That Mommy is his wife. That mommy and daddy both have parents of their own, and siblings too.

She is starting to ask the hard questions. About marriage and babies. The future. Death.

Where is your daddy? she asked my husband the other day. She had realized that while her father had a mother, she had never met her father's father.

My daddy died, Husband replied, never one to mince words.

Husband showed her a picture of her grandfather, and told her a little about him. He would have been very happy to see you if he could, Husband said.

Bean-girl nodded. But he can’t because he’s dead, she said.

I wish that we could tell her otherwise. I wish we could tell her that he’s up in Heaven, watching her right now. That he loves her dearly (as I know that he would have, had he lived to see her) But my husband and I do not believe in that, and we can’t tell her things we don’t believe—not the Big Things, at least. It would be easier. When she asks Who made the clouds? it would be easier to say God. But we can’t say those things, because that’s not who we are. Sometimes I do indeed envy the religious.

(But sorry, Sister R—I doubt I’ll be converting in this lifetime).

Tonight was my night to put Bean-girl to sleep, while Husband put Baby Legume to sleep. On these nights Legume cries piteously for me; she wants me, just me, to hold her at night. It tears at me to hear her cry so. But I admit I also treasure the night-time ritual with Bean-girl: brushing her hair after her bath until it untangles and turns to silk, then curling in her bed with her, her fragrant hair pressed against my nose.

Tommorrow it will be my turn to put Baby Legume to sleep, and then I’ll treasure my moments with her.


Mad Hatter said...

I had a friend who insisted he would raise his children as Catholics even though he himself was a lapsed Catholic who didn't even really believe in god anymore. I never understood why he would do that. So I think it's great that you and your husband are giving your kids the difficult answers you truly believe, rather than going for the easy answers you don't believe.

TheMusingMommy said...

I agree with your approach. While you don't have religious beliefs, you do have beliefs and are standing by them, and therefore can answer with confidence and conviction. You're setting a good example to follow. As you already know, I'm struggling with my own belief-search, and I hope to find answers before Baby Girl begins to ask those difficult questions. The "usual" answers, which seem so simple and easy to others, are not what I agree with, nor what I want to teach Baby Girl.

Good job. I tip my hat to you.

hypoglycemiagirl said...

I agree with you on the religious thing completely. How do you approach the Santa Claus issue? I have always told the the Goose the truth that Santa (or "julenissen" in Norwegian) is just someone dressing up, and last xmas she was upset because she really wanted Santa to exist...

ScienceGirl said...

Being honest now will pay off later, when your kids are teenagers and evaluating your character; no doubt they will value your integrity.

arduous said...

Oh man, I'm tearing up at this post.

Lately I've been going through a bit of a "crisis of faith" thing. I think religion is easier, and more comforting, and I would love to believe that the people who have passed away are looking out for us somewhere. And yet ... I feel like it's a very nice story that isn't actually true. I really do envy the religious, but if you don't have faith, you don't have faith.

I'm glad you're being as honest with the Bean as you can about the tough questions.

CAE said...

Good on you for not taking the easy option. I hope you'll keep posting on the explanations you give to your kids when they ask these difficult questions.

Life As I Know It said...

We haven't had many tough questions yet, but I always wonder what I'm going to say when they start asking about the big stuff - life, death, God.
Guess I should start thinking about it...!

PA said...

What a touching story. How wonderful that you do not fill your children's heads with pretty things you know are not true. They deserve truthful answers to such important questions. I think that teaching them difficulty is just as important and loving as teaching them happiness and beauty. Please keep it up. Your blog is one of my favorites.

PA said...

Oh, and right now I am reading Parenting Beyond Belief. It is a wonderful book that addresses many such questions for those who would like not to default to the easy answers.

EcoGeoFemme said...

I agree with all the other comments. What a lovely post.

The bean-mom said...

Aw, thank you for your comments, all.

Hypoglycemigirl--I really did not want to tell Bean-girl about Santa Claus. I thought it was dishonest. But then one day around Christmas I walked into her room, and Bean-dad was there with a smug smile on his face. He informed me that he had just gotten her to do something because if she didn't, then "Santa wouldn't bring presents" !! And it turns out that the Santa threat is a fantastic motivator for 3-yr olds. I started using the Santa threat myself. So much for honesty... But when it comes to really Big Things, I can't tell her things I myself don't believe.

As Arduous said, "If you don't have faith, you don't have faith."

And pa--thanks so much for the comment and book recommendation! I will have to check that out!

Rana said...

one way to help a child decide for herself, is to provide her with useful options.

you can say, "i don't know what happens when we die. Baha'u'llah said that we pass into a different kind of life where we can still watch over and care for the ones we love who are still alive. some people believe in Baha'u'llah.

the Buddha said that we are reborn... some people believe in the Buddha... Jesus.. etc..

what all the spiritual teachers claim is that there is a different kind of life after this life, and the love we experience here lasts forever and matters very much...

that's what They say. but i don't know. what do you think?"

you don't have to deny the relevant terminology that's been a source of great comfort to humanity. just allow it to be optional.

"some people call this place heaven. what would you like to call it?"

"some people call this Creative Force God, what would you like to call it?"

we all have the lifelong duty to "independently investigate reality", and a basic level of education doesn't take away from this. she's going to learn the words "God" and "heaven" eventually, you mine as well be the one to explain it.

and if you don't know how to explain it, you can study together! these are the beautiful questions of life!