“Am I funny?”
“No. You’re serious.”
“Are you funny?”
“Is Bennett funny?”
“So I’m the only serious one?”
“What about your teacher?”
“Oh, good. So it’s not just me.”
“But sometimes she’s funny.”
“Am I funny sometimes?”
“Who else is funny?”
“Um… the cup.”
“The cup is funnier than me?!”
“Can I play with the iPad now?”
We did a little bit of bargaining in the wake of my daughter’s fish’s death – if that’s what you’d call it when we offered to get her a new fish, and five seconds later she was thinking up names for it. Other than that, my kids skipped right over denial, anger and depression and went straight to acceptance.
This morning, we brought home Sutton’s new fish, Matilda, named after her favorite book, musical and second-favorite movie (behind James and the Giant Peach). Before we’d even transferred Matilda into her permanent tank, Sutton was thinking up names for the next fish she’d get after Matilda died. (The current front-runner for the next fish’s name: Sutton). Then, Bennett started thinking up names for the fish he’d get after his current fish, Sulley, died. (Current front-runner: Bennett).
Drew and I tried to keep the conversation about fish, but it didn’t take long before the kids made the connection that people die, too.
“Someday, I’m going to die,” Bennett announced. He sounded almost happy about it, like he was just pleased to be included in something that had been such a big topic of conversation for us. Little did he know he was uttering my worst fear out loud.
“Not for a long time,” we assured him. “A long, long, long, long, long, long, long [I actually think we're still saying 'long'] time.”
Sutton took it a step further. “Someday, Roald Dahl is going to die,” she said.
“He already did, actually. Quite a few years ago.”
“Oh. Well, I think he left some stories for after he died.”
“Yeah, that’s the nice thing about when people die. They always leave behind wonderful things for us, whether it’s their books or the memories they gave to all the people who loved them.”
There’s something both wonderful and incredibly disturbing about seeing my kids so at peace with death. I know they don’t fully understand what they’re talking about, and that’s part of what makes me so uncomfortable. I’m torn between changing the subject and shaking them violently and screaming, “Death is everywhere, and it’s permanent and horrible and it’s coming for all of us and sometimes, it’s all I think about! Fear death! Fear death!”
But I calm myself down, acknowledge what they say and try to move on, because they’re still processing what happened, and for now at least, I’m the one who has a problem with it, not them. It’s probably the right course to take, but it does require me and Drew to have our guts ripped out over and over from the things they come up with. Like this gem, from Bennett, which I typed down verbatim after he said it:
“The day before I die, I’m going to say goodbye to you guys and I’m going to do a happy dance and then I’m going to die and you’re going to drive me to the cemetery.”
I hear things like that coming from my 4-year-old’s mouth and wonder how I can go on. Then I realize what beautiful and amazing kids I have, and I picture my son doing his happy dance, and once again, I’ve forgotten about death and I’m thinking about life instead.
“Daddy, when I’m an adult, I’m going to grow a baby in my belly.”
“That’s great, Honey, and if that’s what you decide, then yes, you can.”
“How does it get in there?”
“How does what get in there?”
“The baby… how does it get in my belly?”
“How does it get in there, Daddy?”
“Well… um… actually, for Daddy and me… we had a doctor put you in.”
Giant sigh of relief.
“I was so brave.”
“That girl did not share, and I told her, ‘YOU’RE NOT PLAYING NICE!’”
“I forgive Legoland.”
Me: “Yes, I did.”
Sutton: “That’s silly!”
Me: ”Well, I don’t think so. If they’re in love, then I think it’s really nice.”
Sutton: “I’m going to marry a boy.”
Bennett: “Me, too!”
Me: ”Awesome. You both should marry whoever you fall in love with.”
Sutton: “And I’m going to have a daughter, and I’m going to name her Sutton.”
Me: “That’s very sweet.”
Bennett: “And I’m going to have twenty kids!”
Bennett: “They will all be boys, and they will all be named Bennett.”
Bennett: “And I’m going to marry them all!”
Me: ”Um… we’ll talk about that, buddy.”
(We’ve actually had many conversations similar to this one. Sometimes, they say they’re going to marry each other, and sometimes, Bennett announces that his 20 Bennetts will have 20 moms, which is also something I hope he’ll reconsider.)
UPDATE: In the 5 minutes since I posted this, the subject of marriage came up again. First, Bennett said he was going to marry me, then Sutton said he couldn’t because she was going to marry me. Bennett told her she could marry the other daddy, but I belonged to him. They fought over me for a minute. Then Sutton announced that she was going to marry another girl and ran off shouting, “Hooray!”
My point is, we’re all evolving on the subject of marriage.
* two weeks ago, these were TERRIFYING
I’ve written before about how my kids are obsessed with Halloween. Their favorite thing at the Halloween store last year was a spider that jumped out at you when you stepped on a floor pad. It also made this hideous shrieking sound, and its eyes glowed a chilling, sinister red.
The kids were simultaneously fascinated and terrified by it. When we went to the mall, they couldn’t wait to see it, but as soon as we got to the store, they would hide from it and make me promise not to step on the pad.
Of course, even though they couldn’t bear to be near this evil toy, they kept begging us to buy one for our home. Good thing it cost $80, because Daddy knows better than to spend that kind of cash on a cheap piece of plastic that horrifies his children.
If I could get it for $30, though…
So I went online a few days after Halloween looking for a clearance sale. I found a smaller, less scary model at a more attractive price point and decided to make it a Christmas present. That way, if it freaked anyone out, Santa could take the heat.
Bad move, Superdad.
This time there was no fascination, only terror. The kids refused to play with the tabletop jumping spider or even turn it on. It got tossed behind a mountain of other toys, where I assumed they just forgot about it.
… until a couple of weeks ago, when Bennett woke up in the middle of the night screaming. “It’s the jumping spider! He’s coming to get me!”
We told Bennett we were going to throw the spider away, but that only upset him more. I think he didn’t like the feeling that it would be… out there somewhere. He needed closure. I started thinking up a plan. Maybe we could wait for the garbage truck one day, then personally hand it over to the workers and watch them crush it in the back of the truck. Sure, and then my kid would be terrified of the garbage truck.
Drew suggested we lock the spider in our garage. At least then, Bennett would know where it was. Bennett liked that plan, but the nightmares continued.
Finally, I came up with a new idea. We could give the jumping spider away to a friend of ours, an older kid who wouldn’t be afraid of it. He would make sure the spider stayed away from Bennett, and if Bennett ever changed his mind and wanted to visit the spider, we could go to his house.
We set up the drop-off. Bennett and Sutton were both so excited to give the spider away. They fought over who got to carry it, then finally decided they would carry it together. I was afraid they might change their minds about handing it over, but when the time came, they gave it up and never looked back.
As we drove home, I was looking forward to a peaceful sleep with no nightmares. Then, Bennett called out from the back seat.
“Daddy?” he said.
“For Halloween this year, can we get a jumping zombie?”
“I’m not wearing a coat today!”
“Yes you are.”
“Honey, it’s zero degrees outside. Do you know how many degrees that is? None. That’s cold.”
“I’m wearing a sweater.”
“And you should be. But you need a coat, too.”
“I DON’T WANNA WEAR A COOOOOOOOOOAT!”
“I DON’T CAAAAAAAAAARE! Put it on!”
“I won’t be cold! I promise!”
“I’m not arguing about this. There’s your coat. Put it on.”
“What if I wear… a jacket?”
“You’ll actually wear a jacket?”
“Fine. There’s your jacket.”
(I point to her coat. She puts it on.)
“Great. Now let’s talk about gloves.”
This weekend, we took the kids to see a Thomas the Train live stage show. “Daddy?” Bennett asked me on the way there. “Will Thomas be real?”
“No,” I said.
Drew practically swerved off the road. “What?!”
“He’ll be a character,” I explained, “like when we saw SpongeBob in Times Square.”
“Yes, Bennett,” Drew emphatically corrected me. “Thomas will be real!”
It was like I’d blown the whole Santa thing or something. I mean yes, Thomas is real in our hearts, kid, but you’ve been on “real” trains. Are they rendered with pen and ink? Do they have expressive faces and buddies like George Carlin? I didn’t want to set the boy up for disappointment. The Times Square SpongeBob spoke with a thick Mexican accent and practically grabbed his tip right out of my pocket after we snapped his picture. Instead of a pineapple under the sea, he smelled like he lived in a box under the Queensboro Bridge. I wasn’t expecting much more from this show.
We filed into a theater with the barest of backdrops on stage. It was basically a green door and the Thomas logo. Even next to Times Square SpongeBob, this seemed bush league. Bennett was silent as he waited for the show to start. And waited. And waited.
This is a kid who gets antsy waiting for me to spread peanut butter on a mini bagel. He just stared at the stage for half an hour, barely making a peep.
“When Thomas comes out,” Bennett announced at one point, “I’m going to dance with him.”
Eventually, a woman with a microphone took the stage and told us that after the show we’d have an opportunity to get our picture taken with Thomas. I thought Bennett might explode. “When it’s your turn, please move quickly across the stage,” she implored us. “Also, Thomas asked that you not touch his face.”
Then, another two-legged, zero-engined character took the stage. He introduced himself as Driver Sam, and he wore an engineer’s overalls and hat. This is where having gay dads colors your perspective on things, because other parents probably thought Sam was just a delightful, enthusiastic young man belting out the Thomas theme song. As for my partner and me, our gaydars started to overheat. His go-go boy good looks and overinflated biceps could not go unacknowledged. We quietly whispered jokes about Driver Sam checking his Grindr backstage.
Driver Sam instructed the crowd to sing along with him, and we did… for maybe the first 3 times he ran through the theme song. Then he did it about 8 more times, repeating the same lame choreography over and over. “One more time!” he shouted, long after he’d lost us all. That’s when it became clear. Driver Sam’s job was to fill time.
Enough, Driver Sam! Bring on the Beatles!
Driver Sam coached us on how to properly greet Thomas when he arrived (i.e., give a big wave and shout, ” Helloooooooo, Thomas!”). We practiced it about 14 times.
Then, finally, the green doors we’d been staring at for the last 45 minutes opened. Behind the scenes, a couple of stagehands gave a push, and Thomas’ familiar face poked out about two and a half feet from Tidmouth Sheds, then came to a stop. Thomas was as tall as Driver Sam, yet despite his cartoonish appearance, he was far, far less animated than his human co-star.
I realized this was all the Thomas we’d be getting. He wouldn’t be venturing into the audience or moving across the stage. He wouldn’t be joined by any of his train friends, and he sure wouldn’t be dancing with my son.
“Helloooooooo, Thomas!” we all cheered, dutifully. I glanced over at Bennett, to see if he was as unimpressed as I was. Instead, he looked like he’d just seen Elvis.
“He’s real!” Bennett shouted. He turned to me and said it again. “Daddy, he’s real!”
At that moment, I simultaneously felt like the world’s biggest jerk and the luckiest man alive. I knew instantly that I’d be reliving that experience, that pure, perfect little chirp of “He’s real!” over and over for the rest of my life. I’ve replayed it in my head about a thousand times in just the last two days.
I’d forgotten that at my son’s age, your ability to buy into fantasy is incredibly high, while your taste in live theater is incredibly low. This was the most thrilling moment of his young life, and that made it one of mine, too, because the way Bennett feels about Thomas is the way I feel about Bennett.
Sometimes I can’t believe he’s real myself.