My favorite Christmas gifts this year came from Addie (facilitated by her amazing teachers at preschool).
The first is a tiny wooden box, painted in haphazard purples, blues, and whites. Inside it, a little red heart, the words "Filled with Love by Addie" on it. It sits on my desk at work, reminding me to slow down and breathe, to leave work on time, to feel loved. The second gift is a DVD Addie's teachers put together featuring footage they shot over the course of the year of the kids playing, singing, laughing, and so on. It's put to music, and we've watched it over and over again already. It stuns me to watch Addie there, doing things without me, my big girl, so bright and funny. I treasure this movie.
Do I sound overly sentimental? I mean, don't get me wrong--I also got jewelry, and bubble bath, and clothes, and books, and money for Christmas, and I have really been enjoying these things, especially since I'm now on the slow wagon to frugalville and don't just go out and buy this stuff for myself anymore. These things have been wonderful. But the personal gifts got to me a bit more this season. Like the collection of letters my Mom wrote home when we were living in Saudi Arabia--I was three, and apparently very interested in donkey poop (still am), or the mix cd from my dear friend Nancy. These are little pieces of the people I love, that I carry throughout the day.
Maybe this exercise of examining why we spend more than we earn has forced some good introspection in other areas, a re-charging of the attention to the idea of "value"--what we value and how; maybe going back to work full time has rendered my family and friends a little more dear; maybe going to un-church and reviving some spiritual practice is calming me down a little, taming my frenetic energy.
And loss has been somewhat palpable too, lately, as has the specter of loss. Addie enjoys playing with these nesting dolls I have, little dolls given to me by my great Aunt Ruth when I was a kid. I told Addie once to be careful with them because my Aunt Ruth had given them to me, and so they were special. Which led to the inevitable question: "Where is your Aunt Ruth now, Mommy?"
We are now locked into an ongoing discussion of death in which I lamely try to explain what it means to be dead (you get old; you get sick; you decide not to wake up; you are tired of your body and so it just fades away). None of these explanations make sense, and she's frustrated or bored with all of them. She just runs around the house yelling "Lightning McQueen!" (from the Disney movie Cars), or "San Diego Chargers!" (thanks to her Dad) or "Your Aunt Ruth is DEAD!" To her, it's just something to say. Maybe it would be easier if we could talk about "angels" or "heaven," but Eric is an atheist, and I'm wary of handing her some Christian baggage that I can't adequately unpack at the moment. So, we're stuck with semi-realistic explanations of death, all of which may or may not be slightly terrifying to a toddler.
Our dear friends lost their dog, The Great Gatsby, last week. I tried to tell Addie he wouldn't be there next time we went to visit. "Am I dead, Mommy?" she asked. "No, sweetheart," I assured her. But in the car the other day, on the verge of a tantrum, she yelled, "I AM DEAD!" And, I could sort of sympathize. Sometimes driving makes me feel like that, too. What her outburst also suggests is that some of the seriousness of death is translating; she is understanding, on some level, that this idea of "death" is something to consider.
Anyway, I'm the billionth parent on the planet to wonder how to explain such things to a two-year-old without overexplaining or complicating matters, and I'm not sure how important it is that she really understands what it means. In some sense, I suppose it would be nice if we could all treat death like a toddler does--something to yell and scream about occasionally, but also something we can talk about without getting overwhelmed, or bogged down in details. Lightning McQueen. San Diego Chargers. My Aunt Ruth is Dead. Like that.