Thursday, August 9, 2012


(at bedtime)

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?

P:     Yes.

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:

On a lighter note, we have been building up quite a collection of ecologically sound bedtime reading, ranging from this classic:

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.

To this:

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. 


Glamour Drops said...

Just as well you recorded such a wonderful conversation here on your blog, because it will be amazing to look back on in later years to remember what was going on in his adorable little mind.

It seems though, that this generation are better at dealing with the big issues than we were at the same age.

And as for the Lorax, it has always been a staple source of quotes in our family. Truffula trees and thneeds...he was so far ahead of his time.

Jacqueline @ HOME said...

Hi Jane,
I stayed with my sister for a week, back in July, and she was telling us how she explained death to her grand-daughter. I said that I could remember lying in bed at night when I was little and thinking about when our parents would die and feeling really frightened so, for your son to have also coped with your illness, it would have him asking questions. My parents weren't even ill and I was thinking about it so, for your son, he is still going through the normal process .Sorry, not very well explained but, you get my drift I hope !! I just mean that, as children, we all wonder and worry about death, especially of our parents, and , at such a young age, they absorb your answers, think about it and then run off and play and forget about it. He has lovely parents that spend a lot of time with him, answer his questions and read him wonderful books like the ones you have shown.
Hope that you are feeling stronger everyday Jane and getting back to normal days. Lots of love. XXXX

Mise said...

My five year old protests at hearing the word 'die', of a flower, of a spider, of anything. Long may we protect them from harsh reality, and leave them with peace of mind. I hope your son will gain confidence that you will be around for a long time.

essencegirl said...

I've only just started reading your blog and am amazed at your positivity and inspiring attitude! I also noticed you referred to Mr 5's big sister Immy. I assume you have an Imogen? I have an Imogen too - who is 8. It's not a name I hear that often so I always notice when there are other Imogens about.
Such a beautiful name

essencegirl said...

I've only just started reading your blog and am amazed at your positive attitude and positive nature. I noticed Mr 5's big sister is Immy. I assume your daughter is Imogen. I too have an Imogen who is 8 years old. I always tend to notice the name Imogen as it's not a name you hear that often. It's such a beautiful name...................

Slim Paley said...

a sweet, poignant conversation to share. Thank you.

I wish little children knew nothing of climate change worries etc.
Let them be unencumbered, as we were, for those first few sweet years at least...sorry, a sore subject with me. :(

annie said...

A couple of mine children have been fragile of late dealing with the long haul. The middle one who is very smart was angry and needed real, honest talking. The three year old strokes my chest all the time and says "My love you" intensely into my eyes usually when I am crabby or teary. The nine year old girl says she just wants to be be with me alone...and all I want to do is sleep. We seem to take casualties, don't we? Let's hope they recover as well as us.

Littlemissairgap said...

I don't think my kids will ever connect to The Cure like we did back in the 80's. Mind you, I can perhaps see Big Girl getting a bit "everyone is down on me" once she hits those teenage years so she might like to tune into The Smiths and a bit of Morrissey doom & gloom ;-) On A Cure note, I once had to sit through a end of Semester exam listening to a boy next to me (big Cure fan with floppy hair) sing Love Cats over & over. Grrr ... or is that meowwwww?

Miss Prudence said...

hmmm, i have a hankering to hear primary now too!

Thanks for sharing that little snippet of conversation. There are some fab Australian books on the environment one called By the Sea...simply lovely, my kidlets loved it.

posie blogs Jennie McClelland said...

Children are so special, they are thinkers & precious. We are struggling with one who is terrified of her father going back to war, death affects them, deeply.
Do you have an Imogen?? We have a MiMi, she's divine, love Posie

Maxabella said...

I loved being a fly on the wall for that conversation, Jane.

I think they all go through this one - your illness or something else would have triggered it - they panic when they realise that we are not infallible like they always thought we were. Too little to bear the thought of that yet, so they need to stay close to keep an eye on us AT ALL TIMES. Then, they get a bit bigger and know they can do stuff without us and then, one day, they really are wondering why we are hanging around ALL THE TIME.

I kind of still feel that way about my own parents...


Jane said...

Wow Posie and Essencegirl - you both have Imogens? Who would have thought I have only come across one other. Lovely Shakespearean name that it is.

Anonymous said...

hi Jane. I think this may be the first time I have commented-I dont get to read as often as I'd like. I appreciate your writing about this-when I think of my son and reoccurence I feel speechless. Thank you for the reminder that talking to our little ones about this is not always as tragic as we mothers think it'll be. Your little ones perspective made me smile.

JMW said...

Loved this post. The conversation between you and your son is so sweet. Thinking of you - hope you are doing well and feeling well. That's a lot for a family to deal with and for a five-year old to process. We should all fit in as much goodness in our lives as possible and live life to the fullest. Great way to put it. :)

Millie said...

Living in the moment is a fine gift to give our kids. P has a bright, enquiring mind & expresses it freely. Your honest & open answers were exactly right for that moment Jane.
Millie xx

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