Tuesday, 8 January 2008

The big questions

Death and God are on the table. Well, obviously not literally, but definitely, suddenly a topic for our happy family dinner time discussion. I read a suggestion recently that families make a jar with topics ideas written inside to stimulate talk around the table. The suggestion for this evening at our house would read something like 'how do you feel about the existential and theological implications of Bob the Builder?' I should note here, before anyone starts to worry, that no one we know has in fact died.
Young children have brains far more complex that adults very often give then credit for. What may seem like a totally random thought could stem from some 'seed', verbal or visual planted who knows when and stored, mulled and finally aired many weeks, months later. This is, at least, how Jamie's brain seems to work. I am frequently on the edge of my seat as I watch him struggle for the language to articulate to us woolly-minded adults a huge new insight.
This latest exploration started, as far as I can tell, while listening a Canadian singer/songwriter on a tape in the car. 'When we live in Canada' I casually mention 'we'll try and go to see her sing in a concert'. Now here's the jump - hold on to your hats... 'yes, and Jesus will be there too probably ' notes Jamie, equally as casually. hum...
Instead of reacting the way any sane person might, with a smile, an "interesting idea Jame" and a thought of 'let his mind work as it needs to and we'll move on' I feel compelled to be a good parent a grab a teaching moment with both hands. Yes, I know.
It is my ensuing dissertation, with four part harmony and feeling, on how Jesus lived a long time ago (what does that even mean to a 3 year old??) and how he isn't here any more, thus would not be meeting us at any concert, in a church or otherwise but he was very kind and important to people so he is still remembered...you get the idea, that brings us to, of course, death and God. Now somehow I did not see the next question coming. 20/20 hindsight... 'Where has Jesus gone Mummy?'

Jamie has not been exposed to the concept of death before. Thankfully he has never experienced the death of someone he knows, and it hasn't come up in any other contexts. This is not entirely by chance. I, we, believe quite strongly that he's too young to be exposed to the reality that people get ill or hurt and die and we never see them again. We talk about the latest obsession with ships, and in particular the Titanic in terms of the little boats that were used to carry all the people, away from the sinking ship. Its not that we will withhold from him an age appropriate explanation to help him cope when needed, but in the mean time we will shield. Shield. I hear the virtual tsk-tsk-ing of fortified British parents and grandparents in our local park as if to shield your tiny (but oh so big) child is to guarantee a mollycoddled, simpering, fatally naive adult.
I admit easily and often that I know almost nothing about parenting, and generally feel only embarrassment at even a hint of a suggestion that I have any type of expertise to offer on the subject of what's right for children outside of my designated, professional boundaries. Except for now. I am a lecturer in early childhood development and education. I have studied, researched, written and practiced for many years in this field and based on all of that, this is what I believe; young children never benefit from being frightened, 'toughened', being told about the huge sadness and pain of the wider world that they will one day experience, especially through enormous, abstract occurrences like death that they have no hope of being able to grasp, even a little. If it comes up in your lives handle it with great love, basic honesty, care and sensitivity. If not, let it be for now.
It is with this insight in mind that I completely botch an answer. I manage to convey my discomfort with the traditional idea of heaven, a far too complex idea of soul and remembering, and mutterings about not seeing the actual person any more ('I guess he's just popped out to Jasper, Mummy') with "ooh, look. Is that a new fence outside the bike store? Yeesh.
And so on to this evening. The conversation goes something like this:
J: Dylan has Bob the Builder too
K: (distractedly) oh, that's neat.
J: He has God in his, but I don't.
K:..um.. really?
Here I have visions of either a fundamentalist pre-schooler, trying with raised hands and a Billy Graham-like zeal, to convert the other, heathen pre-schoolers, or a deeply serious intellectual discussion on, as I said before, the existential and theological implications of Bob the Builder

J: God lives in a different town. Not in Bobblesburg
M: where does God live?
J: well its by Bobblesburg, in the mountains, like Jasper.
Yikes. I feel another 'expert' explanation coming on..... Oh wait....
K: Jamie, do you mean Gord?
J: Yes Mummy. I said that already. God the forklift truck.

ah ha.

And so the seed continues to germinate quietly until the next time..


heather said...

Well, maybe Gord is God and that's okay too. However, I see, every day in my practice, the devastating results of not "shielding" children from fear, terror, nasty realities and the hard stuff. Keep it up...the less they suffer, the stronger they will be; I know...not very British sentimentality but there is research behind the statement! Heather

a li'l bit squishy said...

For me, shielding my children is my job as a parent. Its that simple. Except when faced head on. Aidan lost a classmate last year in a fatal pedestrian/car accident. So now he gets it. And seems to understand on a more basic real level than even I do. He's sad that Josh is gone, but not thinking about the BIGGER questions...you know the why him? and life is not fair? type questions. And considering that I refuse to play the Heaven game, I am surprised at how simple his understanding has made it all seem. The shield seems to have worked.
You are great parents. Keep it up. We are enjoying your blog immensely. It feels good to know that there are parents who are walking down the same path. Shawna

jahlizz said...

Interesting ideas. I enjoyed reading your entry- found your blog on Catherine's comment section. Hope you don't mind me stopping by!
I am not a child development professional, but I'd love to share my thoughts on this. We do not shield our two-year-old from death. When it comes up in conversation, we discuss it calmly, sensibly and sensitively. There is no fear or horror or sadness involved.
I've learned that death in the US is different than death in other places where people are more accepting of the human life cycle (unlike here where we use any and all measures to prolong it). Death is just a part of life and while we do not dwell on it (and tend to avoid the topic) we discuss it when it comes up.
A recent conversation with my daughter went something like this:
"You may not wrap your jump rope or any other toy or string around your neck."
"But why? It's just my leash."
"Because it could really hurt you. It could even kill you. That is why you must never do it."
"Then I would come back to life." (She knows the account of Jesus, which, I assume is why she said this).
"No. When people die, they stay dead, so we must be careful with our bodies."
Nods. "Okay."
We weren't trying to scare her into obedience and she was completely unfazed. We just gave her an honest answer. We did the same with choking hazards and she never again put objects in her mouth.
However, we let her watch "Beauty and the Beast" and she was quite disturbed. When I asked why she was so sad, she said (of the bad guy stabbing the beast), "The guy poked the monster with the sharp thing... and he laughed about it." I realized that things like malice, violence, cruelty and other aspects of human nature ARE too harsh for her little heart, so I do shield her from these things for now. (Death? no. Disney movies? Maybe. Heheh). We'll be sticking to Charlie and Lola til she's older. :)
Anyhow, we do believe in God and Heaven. So, for our family, there is hope after death, though we haven't discussed this with her yet (and won't for some time). For now, we are open about the biological aspects of death.
As for God and Gord... hilarious!
Thanks for the mental stimulus. I'd love to hear back from you, even if you vehemently disagree!