"Mom, are you going to die in December?" my six year old daughter asked.
"No." I continued picking up dirty clothes from her bedroom floor.
"Am I going to die in December?" cuddled onto her side, she looked over at me from her twin bed, little pink hands tucked under full rosy cheeks.
"No," I paused in my clean up to look into her big brown eyes, "And why December?"
"Because that's when the calendar ends."
"No honey, it's a cycle. I already bought the January 2011 calendar, it just loops around."
Death has been a topic of interest lately for my six year old daughter.
"Mom, what happens when we die?"
My first answer was honest, "I don't know what happens. I know we are connected and we will always be connected in our hearts. You will always be in my heart and I will always be in yours." Okay, kind of a lame answer, but it was under pressure and never rehearsed. Damn, why don't kids ever give us a head's up? But she let it be, and I felt good.
About a week or so later, I'm was lying in her bed for a few minutes before she drifted off to sleep when she suddenly clutched me with quite tears flooding her eyes, her face, smashed to the side of my face. I could feel her tears run down my cheeks, leaving a wet trail down to my neck. Her vulnerability struck me.
I freaked, "What's wrong?!"
"I don't want to die." Her voice was a whisper, a conspiratorial desire to plot against the inevitable.
My daughter cried to me, which she should. This is my role. I'm mother. Life-giver. Instantly, my role was too large for me to hold. I attempted to assure her.
"Everyone dies. It's okay. It's part of the cycle of life."
I'm so lame, I quoted Disney! Or Elton John, which isn't so very lame as Disney.
But raised Episcopalian, with brushes in both Catholic and Mormon churches, I'm a tried and true AGNOSTIC. I don't believe in one thing. I wish. I hope. But I have this niggling feeling that it's dust to dust and nature is the only truth.
"I never want to grow up. I want to stay at like ten or twenty." Her hug turned into a vice around my neck and shoulders.
The unknown was eating away at all the confidence six years on earth had the opportunity to build. Who am I to answer?
"Why ten or twenty?" I kissed her forehead and hugged her back.
"Because I don’t want to grow old and die."
I had to answer. Her young mind needed to grip onto some certainty. Yet there is no certainty. I paused. I looked over the top of her brown curls, felt her wet tears on my cheeks. I'd already told her we all die. How can I make that a manageable fact, one that doesn't frighten her to the core? She hugged me so hard, I could physcially feel her fear. Momma bear woke. I knew I had to make her feel better, had to take the edge off of her fear. So I converted to Catholicism, in a blink.
My husband was traveling in Germany at the time but I called him later, he who is an Atheist, and told him we'd converted and that he HAS to go along with it. If he can lie about Santa, he can lie about this, at least until she's older.
"It's okay honey, we'll always be together. When we die, we turn into angels and hang out in heaven forever together." Yep, that's about how I said it. And I went on, talking of this magic. I told her about angels and heaven and offered to take her to the neighbors Catholic Church on Sunday, to learn more. I talked until I felt her calm, her grip relax, her flow of tears stop. And I figured, if millions in the Bible Belt can use this crutch to cope with their expiration date, why not my six year old? I'd never been so grateful for the existence of religion. When she gets older, she can figure it out on her own.
All I wanted to do was crawl into the embrace of my own mother and ask her for reassurance. She, who is a mother, a life-giver. She, who once soothed my fears telling me that God is love, and love is in all of our hearts. There is something divine about going to our women for answers, to shape our grasp on this swirling life. And though I question God's existence, I know in my heart, if she's there, it's a woman.
The problem with GOD and heaven and angles is... I really don't believe it myself. A 'higher power' is about as far as I can take my psyche without flinching in awkward acknowledgement that I'm still believing in Santa. I want her spirituality not to be centered on an old gray bearded man, but on nature, something I truly to believe in. I can touch it, breathe it. I know it.
But... how do I do that? I wasn't raised that way. I certainly have no practices that encourage it. But I feel its truth.
Baby steps, via Amazon.com. I bought a circular equinox/solstice calendar and want to try to convert our Christian beliefs, the only ones I know, into a natural celebration - but my first attempt came out like this:
"Mom, are angels real?" that inquisitive six year old threw at me while I was driving home from the gym.
"Yes." I have to go for consistency and I'd just told her we'd be angels last week.
"Are they apart of Christmas?"
How the hell do I know? I obviously don't know much about it. Being raised a Christian, but not attending church since teen-hood, is like taking Spanish in High School, you forget most of it. But I'm mom. I have to have an answer, right? Hindsight, I should have thought about my answer a bit more thoroughly first.
"Well, angels came down to celebrate Jesus' birth and the winter solstice - the time when all the trees and plants are dead, and it's the coldest time, and that's part of the cycle of life."
YES. Pause to take in the full lack of logic in that last sentence and the answer is undeniable- I AM FUCKING UP MY KIDS. How do I mesh these two cultures, sanely?
Is there a kid's book out there somewhere or an adult book on how to celebrate a more pagan (or whatever nature based beliefs are called) lifestyle or on how to incorporate split beliefs? I just need it to exist.
What did you tell your child, or what will you tell your child when she asks, "What happens when I die?" Give me what would be your first, off the cuff response, in comment to this post- because, I really want to know.
And - have a happy frickin' holiday - however it's celebrated.