Lately, I've had the realization that Ava and Nate are really getting older. Now, I know that's obvious--but what I mean is, the way we parent them is needing to change a little bit. At 5 1/2 and 7 1/2, they are asking lots of questions, and I can tell they are trying to figure out how the world works. I guess what I'm saying is, for their earliest years we've shielded them from certain realities, and now I can tell that it's time to walk them through some of those things.
Ava has had a few bad dreams lately. About once a week, she comes to our room in the middle of the night, crawls in bed with me for a bit, and then lets me tuck her back in. She never seems terribly upset, so I tried not to make a big deal of it. One morning, though, I asked her if she remembered what her dream had been about. She nodded her head. She told me she'd dreamed that someone had come to our house and stolen Grace. Another time, she dreamed that Jason and I had died. Her dreams are no longer about monsters and boogeymen, but about real-world scenarios. At first, I wondered if she'd been watching something on TV or reading something that made her afraid, but I think it's that she's getting older--she's realizing that, you know? Stuff happens. And although I know it's necessary for her to mature, it sure is painful to watch.
My Nate is quite a thinker, it seems. On one hand, he is a whirling dervish of a boy: perpetually dirty fingernails, kicking the soccer ball in the house, pushing all his sisters' buttons. On the other, I can tell that he is really thinking about things. Observing, watching Jason and I, listening to what we say and how we say it. (Sheesh--no pressure, right?)
A few nights ago, I was tucking him in bed. After I finished singing him our goodnight song, (which he rolls his eyes at but secretly loves), he looked up at me. "Mom?" he said, "Why do some parents die?" Yikes. Now, can I be honest? My favorite TV show was coming on right at that moment, and I was rushing the whole bedtime thing. So I was sorely tempted to just divert the question and get back to the living room! But I stifled that urge.
You see, when a 3 year old Nate or Ava would ask questions like that, Jason or I were always quick to assure them that they are safe, that Mom and Dad are here to protect them, that God loves them and is their ultimate Protector. I just never felt like they could grasp the nuance that, yes, bad stuff can happen, but that we shouldn't be afraid. So we mostly glossed over it at that stage. Maybe that wasn't wise, but it just seemed to make sense to me.
I mean, really--do any of us ever feel like we know what we're doing in this whole parenting thing? I don't. But now, Nate is older. He gets that things go wrong, sometimes very wrong. So I said, "Well, buddy sometimes really sad things can happen. Most people live a long time, but sometimes there can be bad accidents or very serious sickness and people can die. Sometimes even parents can die. And it's really hard to understand why that happens."
He nodded, like he'd already considered all that, and then said, "But God loves us, and you guys are pastors, so things like that won't happen to us." He wasn't upset, just reflective. And my heart broke a little, cause isn't that what we all do? Try to find a reason, any reason, why "it won't happen to me"? Now, to a younger Nate, I might have deflected that and just reassured him that God did indeed love us. (And then try to leave his room in a hurry!) But this time, I knew he needed more. So I said, "Well, God does love us--so much more than we can know. But that doesn't mean that bad things can't happen. Just cause Daddy and I are pastors doesn't mean that we are any different than anyone else--God sees us all the same."
Then I leaned in a little and looked at him closely. "The thing is, Natey--we all have to learn that God loves us enough to help us when bad things happen, even if He lets that bad thing happen to us." I would so much rather tell him that Jason and I will never die, that his life will run a smooth course--and when he was smaller, I pretty much let him believe that. But it's time, little by little, to help him understand that life is uncertain sometimes.
And that kind of stinks.
Now, I said all this and kind of held my breath to see what he'd say. But--and isn't this true with kids?--what you think is going to be this amazing, teachable moment goes out with a whimper instead of the bang you were hoping for! As I was saying all that, he was listening. Then he says, "Mom?"
"Can I get a new bookshelf in my room?" And...on to the next thing! Or maybe that was code for "Let's talk about something else now." Which honestly, I was perfectly happy to do!
We are doing the best we can, and Lord, I hope it's good enough.