Long Days and Short Years

just trying to pay attention so I don't miss my life


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“Santa is Died,”

and other things that you don’t want your three-year-old to announce during preschool story time.

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The question took me by surprise.

Up to this point, our family had employed a very successful ‘don’t-ask-don’t-tell’ policy about the man with the reindeer.  It went like this–Mama and Daddy get you presents because we love you.  Your grandparents get you more (and better) presents because they love you and have disposable income.  Aren’t those silly reindeer cute?  And that man with the big white beard, isn’t he funny?

“Mama, is Santa real?”

The question came from the three-year-old, from the backseat of the car, on the drive to Thanksgiving.  The timing surprised me, but don’t worry– I was prepared.

“Well, honey, St. Nicholas was real.  He lived a long time ago and gave presents to children.  He loved children so much, and now we remember him when we see Santa.”

“Is St. Nicholas still alive?”

“Well… (I sensed that we were entering deeper waters)… no, not really.  He lived a long time ago.”

A long pause while both of my daughters considered this information.  Then the youngest spoke.

“Mama, Santa is died?!?!?”

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So.  At this point I mumbled something about no-honey-Santa-is-still-real-in-stories-and-won’t-you-be-excited-to-see-the-doggies-at-Thanksgiving, and hoped that they would forget.  It worked.

Until the drive home.  My husband was driving the other car, and I was waiting for them to fall asleep.  Instead, our youngest started sobbing dramatically, clearly intending to communicate her distress.  “What’s wrong, honey?”   She breathed loudly.  “I sad,” she declared, “because,” sob, sob, sniffle, “Santa is died.”

Long pause.  Here we go again.

“You mean, Santa is dead,” her older sister corrected.

I interrupted.  “No, no… sweetie… umm… Santa isn’t dead.  St. Nicolas is dead because he lived a long time ago, but now he lives in God’s house, and we remember him and… uh… Santa… well… you see Santas all over the place this time of year.  And we tell Santa stories too, and…”

She was not appeased (yes, if you are wondering, this is the “Mama, You No Eat Animals!” daughter).  Sob, sob, sob… her volume was increasing now… “I sad because Santa is died!”

“Santa is dead.” The grammar police again.

I sighed, reached back, and held her hand.

****

If you would like to judge me for this little episode, you won’t be alone.  For days I berated myself about spoiling the magic of childhood; for making something that could have been so simple, so complicated; and for not having the right words when the moment came.

But then it got worse.  Remorse turned to panic as I remembered.  Preschool.  We had four weeks of preschool until Christmas.  I could see it all unfold before my eyes.  A crowd of three-year-olds listens intently as an unsuspecting teacher turns a page in a storybook.  “Look children, who is this man in the red suit?”  A chorus of sweet voices, “Santa!  That’s Santa!”

And then my daughter would make her announcement.

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Briefly, I considered keeping her home for the month of December, but then I decided to start by talking with her teacher.

It was the end of the day, and parents were bundling their children.  I found the teacher.  “Um, Can I talk with you about something?”  She could tell that I had something serious to say.  She nodded, we stepped into the hallway, and I blurted out my story.    When I was finally finished, I looked down at the ground and waited.  Would we be kicked out of preschool?  Maybe I should have just kept her at home, and kept my mouth shut.  Now it was too late.  I looked up.

She didn’t looked shocked.  Quite the contrary… her expression was more like, “so, this was your serious news?”  She started to walk back to the other children, leaving me with a simple, “Oh, don’t worry about that.  We did something similar in my family, and my niece used to say the same thing.  Don’t worry about it at all.”  Then she was gone, back to the pressing needs of unmittened hands.

And that was it.

****

That was it… so far… but we still have four weeks to go.  Four weeks to go, and that’s just this year.

But I’ve decided to stop nursing my remorse and panic.  Here’s why.  In our brief encounter, here’s what I learned from my daughter’s preschool teacher:  It’s okay.  Kids say things.  Parents say things.  Families do things differently.  Life goes on.

And if a declaration like “Santa is died” isn’t as shocking as I imagined, maybe we can just keep figuring this all out.


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The Best Idea Yet

Yours won’t be nearly this cute.
I ended my last post with a list of ideas to ‘get ready to say thank you.’  Our artist-daughter-in-residence came up with one more.  This is a picture of her at Thanksgiving with two people whom she is VERY thankful for–her Papa (far left) and Nana (far right).

And while our three year old isn’t quite past the scribbling stage yet, she dictated these pictures to me and her sister.

On the far right, Papa again (Papa is popular).  In the middle, a lion.  And on the far left, “Mama, draw me in a monster costume!  With lots and lots of eyes!”

It should be a very interesting meal.


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Getting Ready to Say Thank You

Americans are about to enter into a time of national frenzy.  It is called:

“Getting ready for Thanksgiving.”

The frenzy will fill the aisles of grocery stores where the masses will search for fresh cranberries or (in another aisle) the cans of cranberry jello-mold-like-substance (I’m not judging, just describing).  One thing that makes the Grocery Store Olympics especially spirited is that most participants are looking for the SAME TWENTY ITEMS.    Don’t get me wrong, we Americans love our individual freedoms,  but don’t you dare set a quinoa salad next to the mashed potatoes.

(If this post had a soundtrack, we would now play “Tradition” from Fiddler on the Roof.)

Of course, there are many who will not set foot in a grocery store because they are packing for their red-eye flight across the country.  This event is especially fun if you have children and live on the opposite coast from their grandparents.   Ah, now YOU are the caretaker of the two-year old who won’t stop kicking the seatback in front of her.  Fun for everyone.

Flying, driving, shopping, cleaning… the frenzy will escalate throughout the week and peak sometime on Thanksgiving Day while Aunt so-and-so frantically beats the lumps out of the gravy while the rest of the food is getting cold.   A preteen cousin will add to the clamor by complaining to no one in particular that he is TOO OLD to sit with the BABIES, and someone else will protest that they can’t turn off the game in the FOURTH QUARTER when their team is DOWN BY 6.

“It’s time to eat!!!!!” someone will holler, and the frenzy will converge.  And now, while the food-that-took-all-day-to-prepare is getting even colder, some elder voice will command, “Time to pray!”

The preteen will roll his eyes.  It’s tradition. (cue the soundtrack) Tradition!

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Now if I may, a few observations.  First, yes, I know that this is not exactly the way that things happen in your family.  Some will not pray and some will not watch football.  Some of you (gasp) will even eat quinoa.  The point is not the details.

The point is the frenzy.  Because it has recently occurred to me that in the midst of all this preparation, of all this noble and necessary work, there is one thing that we spend precious little time getting ready for… the thanks-giving.  Do we think that it will happen accidentally?

I’m not sure that it does.  Not in my life, at least.  Sure, I may really mean the prayer that we pray around the table.  I may even feel a vague sense of gratitude when we arrive at my parent’s house and the girls run in yelling, “Nana!  Papa!”  But will I devote as much time and energy to my thanks-giving as I do to making my sweet potatoes?  Not likely.  Well, not accidentally.

But what would it even look like to ‘get ready to say thank you’?  Good question.  I’ve been brainstorming a few ideas for this week, and I would love to hear yours as well.  What if we…

1.  Think of one (or two or three) people who we appreciate for some reason or another, and take the time to write them a surprise thank you note?  Then stick it in the mailbox on Thanksgiving morning.

2.  See if we could take one day and write down a list of 100 things that we are genuinely thankful for?  Big things, little things, silly things and serious things.  Ann Voskamp, whose book “One Thousand Gifts” is changing my perspective on life, was dared by a friend to write down one thousand things that she was thankful for.  I dare YOU to write down a hundred.

3.  Speaking of lists,  how about this one?  Write down a list of the people who are likely to be sitting at your Thanksgiving table and tape it up where you will see it (bathroom mirror, bedside stand?).  Come up with something you appreciate about each person and write it next to their name.  On Thursday morning, begin the day by reading your list to yourself.  See what happens.

4.  Your turn!


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A Rabbi’s Words about the Zoo Tragedy

For those of you who, like me, are still ‘sitting with’ the tragedy that happened last Sunday at the zoo (see previous post), I want to share a response that I just encountered in our local newspaper.  Written by a Rabbi who is also down the road from the zoo, it speaks about the necessity of silence in the face of such great suffering.

http://rodefshalom.org/news/blog/responding-events-zoo-message-rabbi-bisno

I re-post it for you because this family and the bystanders are still heavy on my heart.  I have heard so many words about this tragedy, and the majority have been each individual’s interpretation of who was to blame for it.  I get this–we want to know why it happened and how such a thing could have been avoided.  Coming up with an explanation gives some comfort.  If only the mother or the zoo or the bystanders… or God… would have acted differently… then…

I get this.  I “wear my heart outside of my body” (i.e. in my oh-so-very-mortal children) too.

But I still think that this Rabbi has a point.


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You Know

The thought came unbidden.

“Oh God, I hope that it’s not someone I know.”

Immediately I was ashamed of myself.  What does it matter?  If it happened to a stranger, does that make what happened any less tragic?  Oh God…

On my lap a child wriggled as I read the article on my brother’s phone.  Zoo tragedy.  Wild dog exhibit.  Two year old.  Fell.  Mauled.

I shushed my brother and his girlfriend’s conversation, not wanting my own very-much-alive children to hear that horrible word and ask me… Mama, what does ‘mauled’ mean?

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It happened just before noon on Sunday, just up the road from the church where… at that moment… we were most likely singing.  It happened just up the road, at the zoo we know, and I could picture the very spot where that exhibit is open, the place where two-year-olds ask… “Mama, pick me up?”

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The blame comes as sure as the grief.  The zoo.  They shouldn’t have had that open space.  It was dangerous.  The dogs weren’t safe… they escaped in May… what were they thinking… valuing animals more than people… something like this was bound to happen.  The mother… why wasn’t she holding him more tightly… she shouldn’t have let him up there… this is why those child backpack/leash things aren’t such a bad idea… you’ve got to be careful with your kids.  The bystanders… why didn’t someone jump down and fight the dogs off?

And I’m sure that the zoo employees… the mother… the bystanders… are asking themselves even worse questions…

Even as parents like me remember times when we have lifted up our own children to see the doggies.

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At the zoo people gathered… screaming, crying…  and down the road we gathered… singing.  We didn’t know, but we do know.

We too have lost children.

We too have been to blame.  And not to blame.  It all gets mixed up when a tragedy happens.  What if I hadn’t lifted him up?  What if I had held her hand?  What if I hadn’t let him go out that night?  What if I had told her not to date that boy?  What if I had reached out to him when he was younger?  What if I had taken the time to listen to her?

What if I could have stopped this from happening?

If I know anything, I know this–the ‘what if” questions are unanswerable.

And we don’t sing because we know the answers.  We sing because we love and are loved anyway.  We sing because our hearts are breaking and the world is hard and sometimes we are part of what makes it so bad, and yet… and yet, there is grace enough.  We sing because we don’t know what to do and yet we do know what to do–say help, say thank you, say I’m sorry, say how-in-the-world-can-this-happen, say I’m angry, say I’m scared.  We sing because we believe that someone is listening to all this.

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Oh God, this mother… this father… this child… you know them.  You know them.  May this be enough for today.