July 15, 2011 3:27 pm
“I DON’T WANT TO DIEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!”.
It is 4 a.m. and we are in the middle of another all-nighter. I awake to the sound of sobbing and race down the hall toward him. He is curled up in the corner of his bed, rocking back and forth. He tells me again that he doesn’t want to die, that he is just laying there waiting to die. He asks how much longer we are going to be his mommy and daddy. When are we going to die too? He doesn’t want that either.
It’s enough to rip my heart right out of my chest. I try to comfort my baby boy but I can’t. Tears are streaming down my face too and I tell him he’s not going to die for a long, long time. Mommy and Daddy aren’t either. I sit there in the dark room with the sound of Graham sobbing and the gentle hum of the fan in the background. I rub his back and try to assure him that he is going to live a long, happy life. I tell him he has nothing to worry about. He eventually falls back asleep while my mind races. This scene is repeated in similar formats at least twice a week.
At four-and-a-half, my boy has the weight of the world on his shoulders. He worries about the “what if’s” and sees the bigger picture. Clearly, a thinker and I’m proud but I’m also scared shitless. He’s too smart not to call my bluff on some of life’s bigger questions.
“Don’t put that checker in your mouth, Graham, it could get stuck in your throat.”
“Then what will happen?”
“I would have to help you get it out”
“What if you didn’t help me?”
“I would, I would help you get the checker out of your throat.”
“But what if you DIDN’T?”
“You wouldn’t be able to breathe.”
“Then what would happen?”
“What Mommy? What would happen if I couldn’t breathe and you didn’t help me? What? WHAT WHATTTTT?”
The simple answer never suffices, I always have to tell it like it is. And then he’s up at 2, 3, 4 a.m., worried about dying and thinking about the consequences of all of the dangerous things I’ve warned him about. He’s scared of a stranger taking him from his mommy and daddy, of a fire in the house where he won’t be able to get out, of being stuck underwater and not being able to breathe. The list goes on. I’m scared of all of these things for him but I dare not say it out loud.
The problem with these all night cry-fests is that we don’t have the answers to give him. He knows that we’re his mommy and daddy and it’s our job to keep him safe. We talk about the reason we have rules like holding a grownup’s hand in the parking lot and why it’s not ok to ever swim without a grownup present. We practice fire drills to make sure they know how to get out of the house if the real deal ever took place. We talk about all of the “what-if’s” for different situations and how to handle them, in hopes that preparedness will help ease his mind. It doesn’t.
Jamie and I are both Atheists. It is by no means something I’m ashamed of but it is also not something I shout from the rooftops. It makes people uncomfortable to hear our different opinion on religion and I try not to rub it in. But we also have a solid belief that we don’t believe and that is the way we choose to raise our family. This puts us at a disadvantage when it comes to Graham’s fears because I don’t have an answer to give him. I can’t tell him he will die and go to heaven and everything will be just peachy because I don’t believe that. There have been so many sleepless nights where I’ve wished I could just promise Graham an afterlife and get back to sleep but it’s just not that easy. And so, we read the Atheist parenting books to look for good suggestions. We try to practically prepare our kids for life without scarring them in the process. It hasn’t been easy. In the meantime, we alternate nights on the couch so we can be there to comfort them when they need it. Let’s hope they get through their fears before my back gives out completely.