Zane and I have started taking our pup Maisy on long walks. It's just he and I, because Larry's ankles/Achilles are shot and he can't be on his feet for long periods. We don't walk around our neighborhood, but go behind the houses into the "wilds" behind the subdivision. Nobody else has been out there, except for the usual squirrelly teenagers, and it's been fun exploring. Saturday we found out that there's a pond back there, of all things. We could see it in the distance, and only the muddiness of the terrain and the fact that we'd already hiked two miles kept us from heading there.
It's great walking with my boy, having our bonding time. I truly appreciate our adventures. Zane has a sharp mind and is interested in just about everything, just like me, and I love that. I hope that he never loses that excitement about the world around him, and I am almost always happy to answer any and all of his questions.
Except that I need some preparation for some of them. Inquisitive minds want to know the answers, and often Zane is not content with a single, monosyllabic response. He seems to instinctively understand that life does not boil down to just black and white answers. And I am afraid to admit that I sometimes cringe at his questions. Some of them are pretty heavy, and I find my own questions rushing through my head. Is he old enough for the answers? Should I just respond with the truth, however horrible it might be? Or do I sugar coat it, or outright lie, if I think he's too young? I know that ultimately all I can do is my best, but that doesn't stop me from freaking out a little.
The questions started out innocently enough. Zane wanted to know about a particular bug, or a tree, or Bigfoot. I handled those questions, mostly with "I don't know", followed by assurances that we would look up the answer later. I was feeling confident, even. But somewhere before we hit the top of the first big hill, everything went south.
"When something dies, where does it go?"
"It goes to heaven, son." I thought about being all science-y but I didn't think that was what he was looking for, and I did not want to go there.
"If I died, what happens?"
"You would go to heaven." I got a little bit of the heebie-jeebies at the question, but I rallied. I did have to explain what heaven is thought to be, but that wasn't too scary.
"When a tree dies, where does it go?"
"It goes to heaven, Zane." I did not want to be cherry picking who, or what, goes to heaven, mostly because nobody actually knows, and I certainly am not the gatekeeper.
"Is Morris in heaven?"
"Yes, son. Morris is in heaven." Morris, my grouchy companion for sixteen years, is probably up there trying to bite a saint or two. He's just that cantankerous, and he gets away with it because he's adorable.
"Why did my grandpa die? " "Is my grandpa in heaven?"
"Your grandpa died because he was very old, and yes, he is in heaven." Zane just recently started asking about his grandpa, Larry's father. I am glad that he remembers him.
"Where does God live? Where does Jesus live?"
"They live in heaven with everyone else, Zane. Do you see that red-tailed hawk over there?" I was trying to distract him, yes. Things were taking a turn, I just knew it.
"Is God dead? Is Jesus dead?" AAAAAAHHHHHHHH!!!!
These were logical questions, in Zane's mind. He wasn't being disrespectful. We'd just spent all this time discussing heaven, and how everyone was there because it's such a happy place. If everyone else in heaven is dead, then it followed that God and Jesus must be dead as well. Developmentally appropriate if-then thinking. I knew that, but I still felt the bones of every ancestor rolling over in my DNA. My brain scrambled for some sort of age appropriate response.
"No, Zane. God and Jesus are not dead. Heaven is their house, and they live there." I waited, shoulders hunched, for more questions.
Zane had no more questions, except to ask about a rock he had found. I had made it through the gauntlet safely this time. I sighed with relief, sending up a small prayer of thanks.
I wonder if Zane ever asks his daddy these kinds of questions.