Explaining the World to a Four-Year Old: Mummies, Waterworld, and Groundhog Day

My little morbid M has finally met his match. After months of questions about death and a disconcerting zombie obsession, the day I dreaded finally came the other night after we had spent the day at the Museum of Nature and Science. “I’m scared,” came the little voice from the floor next to my bed (we are on holiday and M is on the floor on a mini futon; L is in bed with us and pretty much permanently attached to my breast, which I find alternately endearing and downright irritating!)

“What are you scared of?” I ask.

“I’m scared of dying.”

Fuck. Fuckity fuck fuck.

The conversation continued from there and evidently seeing the mummies at the museum was the thing that tipped my four-year-old son over the edge into worrying about his own mortality. Of course I blame myself. I also have a newfound sympathy with my own mother.

Last night M was scared of dying too. I told him to send me his worries over an imaginary WiFi connection and that I can have the worries for the whole family.

Tonight he is still scared and he says it is because of the mummies. I explained that no one becomes mummies any more, that’s why they are in a museum because they are something interesting from long ago. He is still scared. He asks if everything stops working when you die like your blood and your heart (dear god child, you are four! Where is all this coming from?!)

I say that yes, everything stops working, except that there is a special part of you that is not like the rest of your body and that some people call it your soul – it is the special spark that makes you you, and that most people believe that the soul lives on.

He asks then (and I kid you not) if people live on after dying then were they there before they were born. I say that yes I suppose souls could have existed before people were born (being an agnostic I feel like I am slipping ever further out of my depth). I explain how some people believe in heaven. He says he thinks that heaven is in the sky. Or on the little island with only one person on it on the map that came free with his Bear fruit roll ups.

I explained how he is a part of me and that he is connected to all the people he loves and that we will always have a special connection.

He is still worried about the mummies. He will always be scared. He doesn’t want me to leave the room.

I explain that sometimes we do feel scared but that he will just have to feel a bit scared and then tomorrow he will see that it was fine and then he will be less scared tomorrow. He is a lot scared. I say I will come back after one minute. He asks how long a minute is. I have flashbacks to a very similar conversation I had with my own mother when I was about M’s age when I learned how long a minute is (she said she would come back after 60 seconds; I counted to 6 and freaked out when she wasn’t there).

I come back after a minute. “That wasn’t very long!” He says. “No, I told you a minute isn’t long.”

I come back after five minutes. He is still scared. He says that he also sometimes hears ghost noises. Um… What?! Does this kid have no consideration for my mental state? I tell him it is probably just ear wax noises and to tell me next time he hears ghost noises.

I tell him to think about going to Waterworld tomorrow. He is scared of the rides. I reassure him that they will be fun, but that we definitely won’t be going on the Lost River of the Pharaohs.

In a way it breaks my heart that my little boy is scared of dying. I don’t have a magic cure for that but I have to pretend like I do because I am his mummy, and mummies (the good kind) are supposed to be able to solve everything. I can’t tell him that I am scared too, for him and his brother, and for all the things that I still don’t understand. I can’t tell him that I am not a million miles away from that little girl that used to have the same conversations at the same age with my own mother, when I used to imagine the world going on forever and ever without me in it and could not sleep.

I can’t tell him these things, but I feel them and it makes me so sad that he is scared. But it also makes me so proud that I have a little boy who is philosophical enough to think these things at the tender age of four years old. He is my little mini me and together we will navigate the minefield of life’s mysteries, worries, and questions, even when I don’t really have the answers.

Posted by BurntSupper.WordPress.com © A L Roark

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Burnt Supper

British/American, postgraduate, wife, mother, dog-owner

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