Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Sea-horses and death.
In such a big world, with so many angles to every experience, its always fascinating to see what angle captures Phoenix's fancy. Or what tiny phrase can, literally, change him. A quiet conversation about manners, seemingly out of his earshot, enters "please" into his vocabulary. He was told he's a" tough boy" after he fell once and he will only cry now if he has just bounced his head off of a cement column (in the subway, like a ball, from running at top speed while looking backwards. Ouch.) Sunday I casually teased a lollygagging E, calling him an old man. P was instantly serious, asking "He gonna die now?" (I thought I had explained it adequately when 2 days later he cupped E's face in his hands and asked, "You really old?" )
So I took him to the aquarium Monday with the intent of celebrating life, the birth of the baby walrus. He definitely thought it was cool, but he also walked away with more death concerns. Part of the sea-horse exhibit at the aquarium includes a small conservation window showing dried sea-horses and bags of pipe fish. The message on the wall explains the problems of using sea-horses in traditional chinese medicine. P saw the window and was fixated. He demanded to know why the sea-horses had died. I reminded him that everything dies. How it die? WHY it die? Read it mama. So I read the info on the wall and he sat with that for a bit. Then he wanted to know Why someone would use it for medicine. But why kill a sea-horse to feel better? Then he wanted to know if the sea-horse had gone on to its next life. Was it there now? Who did it become?
Its times like this that I understand the lure of distraction. "Oh, honey, its a happy-wappy dead little sea horse, come see this cute wittle cowfishy!!! " But I know P can't be distracted. And even if he could, it would piss me off if I was asking E to help me figure something out and he was like, "Aww, its ok. Hey! Did you see the new Bush headline?" So I stuck with the conversation, hoping not to say anything that would confuse him even more. Then yesterday I was looking up information about motion sickness for our upcoming plane trip. P asked about it and I told him I was looking up some medicine. The look he gave me broke my heart. I couldn't fathom why he would look at me like that. We stood looking at each other for a minute (if I was to quiz him about it he would just say "nofin" so I usually wait). Then he asked "you gonna take the dead sea-horse medicine?" Fortunately, my answer was no.
You're probably wondering what sort of torture we've done to the child to wire him this way. It all started with an innocently informative book on a passion of his: sharks. There was a dead shark in the book, one of Many pictures, and it really upset P. At the time I decided a large part of the problem is the structure of society. Most kids don't see anything die these days. My parent's generation saw chickens twirled and cows slaughtered. But a kid in the US, especially a vegetarian city kid, doesn't see much death. So I started to blame myself, that we weren't raising him close enough to the earth etc. But after conversations with other moms, city and country, vegetarian, vegan and meat eaters alike, it appears that it is just P. None of them report problems with books or seeing dead pigeons in the street with their toddlers. After the sea-horse inquisition at the aquarium P was determined to show Emily (Yoav's mama) the window. I was a wee bit concerned about him traumatizing Yoav with his worries, but it wasn't a problem. Yoav wasn't interested and I was relieved when the two started chasing each other. Then I remembered that my father brought me a dried sea-horse from one of his adventures when I was a little girl. I still remember holding it, thinking it was amazing. The death part never even crossed my mind, it was just a pretty treasure.
But P doesn't see the pretty treasure angle. And his death grip goes beyond the metaphysical. He's been fascinated by biology since he turned 2. He loves talking about skeletons, blood and body parts, We were standing beside a pregnant woman on the train one day this spring. Seemingly out of nowhere he turns to me and asks, "When I in you, I in your blood?" It took me a moment to put it together, and that's how P learned about amniotic sacks and belly buttons etc. I think I learned about all of that when I was pregnant :)
So, shortly after the shark incident we saw a dead rat in Central Park. We still naively thought short and sweet was the best approach. His many questions were answered simply with, everything dies, just like the leaves in the fall -its a cycle and its all good. He had made the jump from sharks die to mama dies the week before while I was cooking dinner. But after the rat he realized he too would die. Nothing is sadder than a two year old crying "I no want to die" while you carry him through the park. And it was this realization months ago that leads to his funny pronouncements at quirky times these days. He ate something yummy the other day and told me: "I love this mama. It my favorite thing. I wish I could eat it forever and ever and ever. I eat it all, we get more. I eat That, we get more. Again and again and again, and then I die."
Posted by Jac