I am never going to die.
That’s what I had to promise Elijah to settle him down in the dark last night as we cuddled before his bedtime.
We were having the preschooler pillow talk we typically do before my final goodnight kiss. I love that cozy space when the night-night struggles are over, books have been read, songs sung, and lights are out. It’s a great time to get my boy telling me something significant about his day or about something that’s bothering him since his mind (and body) have been too active for such things to come up during the day.
Last night, we were chatting in reference to a book we had read earlier in the day, Mama, Do You Love Me? by Barbara M. Joosse. It tells the tale of a girl testing her mother’s love only to find it boundless.
I turned the concept of the book on its head and like the child in the story, I questioned my son whether he would love me if I forgot to give him his dinner or if I turned into a bear. His responses were pure sugar and gentleness.
Finally, Elijah asked, “Will you love me until I die?”
“Um,” I stumbled, never really knowing the best way to talk about death with a small child other than simple non-elaborated truth. “Of course.”
“But I will die before you…” I hesitantly whispered.
Loud sobbing ensued.
Elijah wailed, “But what will I do if you die? I can’t take care of myself. Mommy, don’t die!” And on and on.
Oh my goodness, I thought, as I cradled my now sobbing and thrashing about child. How am I going to repair this misspeak?
Being motherless, no matter that it would happen in the distant future, is simply too agonizing for a four-year-old to comprehend.
After several flailing attempts, I told Elijah that we were both going to be very old when we die. He would be a grandpa, and I would be a great grandma (which truth be told, is unlikely).
I reassured him that I would always be with him and that we would always have lots of fun. It was beginning to work; his crying had subsided as I got his interest.
I made up an image of him being 100 and me being 141 and us doing tricks together at the skateboard park and having a grand time. (I know it’s ridiculous, but he was quieting, which was necessary so Elijah’s sobs wouldn’t wake his brother.)
“Mommy will never ever leave you,” I promised. Elijah calmed. Pillowtalk resumed.
“Don’t die, mommy,” Elijah said, and his words panged my heart.
“I won’t, Elijah.”
“Let’s just die together,” he added.
“OK, Elijah,” I told him as I gave him his final kiss goodnight, spoke our final goodnight saying, and got up to go.
I closed his door behind me and deeply sighed.
I had done something I take very serious: I had lied.
I suppose my telling my son I wouldn’t die falls into the category of little white lie but I have a policy that I do not do that. I believe the truth muscle is something that needs constant flexing or it will atrophy. I believe lying can be a slippery slope. So I don’t do it.
But I did last night.
And I will let that go because more important, I need to assure my first son, just as the mother in the book, that “I will love you, forever and always, because you are my Dear One.”
In honor of Down syndrome awareness month, I am trying to post to this blog every day for 31 days (or at least 31 times in October) to increase awareness of Trisomy 21, the genetic condition that causes the syndrome.