Here's an excerpt from an article I wrote about kids and grieving that was recently published onBabble.com:
When I tell our 7-year-old daughter Ella that her great-grandmother has died, her mouth drops its smile and settles into a straight line. We are sitting on the floor cross-legged, our knees touching.“How did she die?” she asks.
“While she was sleeping,” I say.
“But how?” she asks again and I explain that when we get older, sometimes our bodies stop working, our hearts just stop beating.
“Oh, so she was really, really old then?” she asks.
When I tell our 7-year-old daughter Ella that her great-grandmother has died, her mouth drops its smile and settles into a straight line. We are sitting on the floor cross-legged, our knees touching.
“Yes, honey. Grandma Judy was 94,” I say. “We’ll miss her. She was a wonderful person, full of grace.”
I can tell Ella’s not sure what it means to be full of grace. She searches my face for some sort of clue, but all I can come up with are tears that I quickly wipe away.
“It’s sad isn’t it?” she says, then sighs and lays her head in my lap. After a few minutes she stands up, wraps her arms around my neck and gives me a hug.
“I’m going to play now, okay?” she says, pulling away from me and heading down the hall. She doesn’t seem too sad, and I wonder if she really understands that Judy is gone.
1. Sixty is as fast as the car in front of me is going and the limit is 65. Why can't they go faster? Are they trying to save gas or something? Drive a Prius then! I need to go 80 and I know from many years of experience that this is one stretch of highway where you can go 80 and get away with it. I need to get away with it.
2. Of course there aren't any spots left in the parking lot at the preschool. These other mothers, what do they do all day that they can arrive early to pick up? Why can't I get there early, or let's be honest, even on time? I imagine a day when I'll turn in to that lot and have my pick of parking spaces. I park in a handicapped spot and hope no one notices.
3. At the gate to the preschool I realize I'm one of three or so moms; the rest of the women waiting are au pairs. Their broken English is sweet. They are all horribly skinny, wearing tight jeans and cropped, puffy jackets. They are all smiling.
4. I buckle my girl in the car and we take the long way home, skipping the highway in favor of the tree-lined residential streets of a neighborhood we don't live in. The speed limit here is 25. When I see my speedometer creeping past 28, I gently press the brake pedal.
5. On the way up the hill my four-year-old asks, "Mommy, why aren't you going faster?"
I have a problem being present. I am forever wondering what it will be like later: what would the stairs look like if they were carpeted? When will Ella need braces? What about next week? Will I be happy then? Then there are times when I wrestle myself away from the crystal ball in my head and pay attention. This mostly happens when one of my girls comes to me with a story to tell. I consciously turn to them, thinking, "This is it. This is when something special can happen. Don't blow it." Then we must lock eyes because eyes are the window to the soul and once souls decide to dance, there's only now.
We lock eyes and I see the blue of Ella's spark up and glitter like a million stars as she begins her tale about horses and how a bunch of horses is a herd and that her favorite kind of horse is a Mustang, although Arabians and Appaloosas are cool too. I watch her little pink lips move around the unruly bulk of her growing in big teeth. Her hands punctuate the space around us with words like "gallop" and "high plains." I stare at her in wonder, amazed, amazed, amazed as though in an equine trance: my little girl is a beautiful thinking person, a part of me who is, every minute, becoming her very own unique human. Realizing this in the moment is awesome and I know I can only experience it if I stay present.
And so I do and soon I can't bear the thought of this horse treatise ever ending because then I'll have to go back to next week or next year and being in those places makes me a bit anxious while being now, here with Ella and all her magic, makes my breath even and my heart calm. I listen to the end, my head filled with trotting horses and happy neighs and then she's off, tumbling out the door and into the yard, on to her next great discovery while I sit for another minute, reveling in mine.