P (five year old): can I stay in this house forever?
Me: Of course, how long did you have in mind?
P: Until I am all grown up and me and Immy (big sister) have fallen in love with different people and we all live here together. Me, Immy, the person I love and the person she loves.
Me: What about mummy and daddy?
P: You'll be dead won't you?
Me: I bloody hope not. (Note: bloody is not a swear word in our house as it is authentic Australian slang).
P: (looks puzzled)
Me: For example - look at Heddy, your grandmother. She is my mummy and she is still alive and I am grown up aren't I?
Me: So there you go, when you are grown up, I should be alive too.
P: Why do people die?
Me: All living creatures have to die sometime. Sometimes they get sick, sometimes they just get old. The trick is to make sure you fit lots of life into the space between being born and dying.
P: When will the Queen die?
Me: I don't know for sure. She is pretty old though. Over 80.
P: Why isn't the Queen in the Lympics? It's in her country.
Me: I think she might be a bit old for running and swimming.
P: It will be good when she dies. There will be no one to boss us around anymore.
Me: Not sure about that. Prince Charles will become King Charles and unless we become a republic he will be our head of state. Last time I looked he was pretty bossy. About organic things. And architecture. And the youth of today.
P: What's a head of state?
Me: Never mind. (Note to self: need to better explain way constitutional monarchy works to children).
P: I don't want you to die. Or go to work tomorrow. Or leave me. Ever.
Ever since I was diagnosed with cancer, something has been worrying P. I know that this is an obvious thing to say, but I am constantly looking for signs that the fear he must have had to begin with is going away, at least a little. After all, it has been almost two years now.
In my lawyerly way I tried to pin his worry down to something specific, which I would then try to minimise or alleviate. Was it losing my hair, vanishing to hospital for days on end, talking about my sore shoulder, being tired, being a bit sick or being unable to lift him properly anymore? I have never lied to him about my diagnosis, and used my best efforts to explain bad cells and good cells and chemo to him. I was always pretty vague about the surgery I had, simply because it was such an assault to my body that I really don't think he should be exposed to that at such a young age.
Of course that was just way too complicated an approach.
He is five. He doesn't care about any of that stuff. He couldn't care less about my hair or my surgery or my blood counts or my bone scans or my fear of recurrence.
He just wants me to be alive. Sometimes the simple obvious answer is in fact the correct answer.
I understand clearly now that he is in contact with a visceral fear of abandonment or loss in a way that I certainly was not at his age. I don't think I even thought about death once until I was a moody 12 year old listening to A Forest by the Cure (thank you Robert Smith for giving me some great black clothes wearing/goth/moping around teenage years. You were just the backdrop I needed). Here's another one to mope to:
I love the Lorax still, complete with the Truffala trees and Thneeds. It is compulsory reading for all children. And I know a new Lorax was released last year, but you can also watch the original animated film on YouTube, here it is below.
Wouldn't this make great wallpaper? Just as I knew nothing of death at 5, I also new nothing of climate change\recycling\ endangered animals, all topics my children are Full Bottle on.
This book is about a forest which was chopped down and a city which smothers everything with its smoke, but has a happy ending.
Don't you just love a happy ending? I do. Although I now have a major hankering for the Cure. Time to get Faith out again.