A 3.5 year old and "death"

We were walking home from a friend’s house late this afternoon, DS in the Ergo, DD beside me. She decides to run ahead, and is usually excellent at stopping at corners. There was an alley ahead, and I warned her to stop. Instead, she ran right across it. I was pissed, that kind of angry that comes from fear. She was, in typical preschooler fashion, laughing at me. This I’m used to and know it’s nothing personal, but a part of me felt she needed to understand the seriousness of this. So I said to her: “you remember Calvin [neighbourhood cat]? remember he got hit by a car and ‘broke into pieces’ [this was a term she used, so I thought I’d speak her language]? well if you got hit by a car you would also break into peices, that’s why it’s so important for you to stop at the corner”.

Well, she broke down crying and started saying “I’ll never pretend anything ever!”. At first I thought she was just tired from a long playdate, and bringing up a recurring issue we have where she wants to tell others what to pretend…but she was getting pretty hysterical. I held her and tried to hear what she was saying, and this is a few of the things she got out while crying:

“I’ll never pretend anything ever when I’m dead”
“My friends will miss me if I’m dead”
“I’ll never see my friends and I will miss them”
“You hurt my feelings mama!” [euphimism for ‘scared’]

etc…

Well, I was floored. Absolutely floored. It was heartwrenching to hear a 3.5 year old “getting” the concept of death. Part of me felt guilty as hell for scaring her so much, but part of me was amazed at these things. This was definitely a first for us. I’d tried to discuss Calvin with her before – Calvin was a local cat who liked to sit on the corner in front of his home and greet passers by. Many people knew him, and one sad day we found a sign posted saying Calvin had been killed by a car. There was a pile of flowers and letters from neighbours. I had to try and explain to DD what happened without scaring her, and thought it had gone okay (this was several months ago) and she had described it as Calvin “breaking into peices” and wondered why nobody had put him back together again. At the time, I didn’t think she had fully grasped the concept.

Today, I’d deliberately not mentioned “dead” – I didn’t want to freak her out too much, but I underestimated her conception of what had happened to Calvin. I know that I can’t sheild her from this stuff, and it was good for her to get it out. I carried her home and comforted her, but fought back the desire to “make it better”. It’s hard to describe how I felt, but part sad and part fascinated comes close.

Anyways, it was just one of those moments that felt very powerful and important, and I wanted to write it down.

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