Wednesday, October 12, 2011

conversations with my three year old


 This is Sadira Gabrielle.  Less than a month before she turns four.


This kid of mine.

I say that while shaking my head in bewilderment.

When she was a baby, everything about her fascinated me. I was a new mom, and everything was new and fresh.  One day she was a tiny baby, then the next thing you know she could hold her head up.  Then she could smile.  Then she could babble.  Then she could cruise.  Then she was a walker.  Everything happened so quickly.  One thing right after another during that first year.  

Then she turned one and the talking started....and it never stopped.

I remember telling a friend that Sadie would be the kid that comes home from school and doesn't. stop. talking.  "Mommy? Guess what I did in school today?  I painted.  With red and purple. You know those are your favorite colors? Aren't they? Mommy? Oh, and guess what else?  I got my picture taken. And it was so pretty! And we played in the playground, and then we read a book, wanna know what book we read? Mommy?  Are you listening? Mama? Did you hear what I said?"

And boy oh boy, was I correct!

Most of the time I love that my child talks non-stop.  I love hearing the things that she thinks about, and her observations about the world.  Sometimes, however, I have to remind her to sllloooow dooowwnn and take a breather.  And still some other times I have to tell her to BE QUIET, just for a few minutes, because my brain so desperately needs just a moment of silence.

But the majority of the time, her comments crack me up.  Take this past weekend, for example.  A popular song came on the radio, and she starts singing along, with her eyes closed, arms stretched out, "This ones for you and meee! Living out our dreeeaammmss!! We're all, right where we should beeee!!! Oh Mommy, I'm in love with this song!! I open my eyyyyeeees! [cue her to open her eyes]  And now, all I want to seeee....is a sky full of liiiiiggghhhtteeerrsss!!! For serious, Mommy I'm IN LOVE with this song."

"Really Sade?"

"Oh yes. For serious. Totally.  I've been singing it in my heart all day long." [She goes back to singing along.]

For serious.  I love when she says that.  Don't know where she heard it, but it's so funny to me.  And anytime she says it, she's so...well, SERIOUS about it. 

For serious. She made me giggle.  Man, I love my kid.  She's so damn cool.


Now it's one thing to be caught off guard by the stuff that Sadie says...but I never really thought that I'd be almost four years into this parenting thing and still be shocked and surprised by the things that come out of my child's mouth.  I thought I'd get used to it, "oh that's just Sadie, she's got a LOT TO SAY!"  And I certainly never thought I'd be unprepared for any of her questions.

I've tried to mentally prep myself for the questions that Sadira will ask one day.  There are the obvious ones, "where do babies come from?" and "What happens when people die?"  But then there are also the ones specific to our family, "Mommy, why aren't you and Daddy married?" or "Why doesn't Daddy live in our house with us?"  I've tried to prep myself for what I will say when Sadie asks about these things.  I decided long ago that I wouldn't shy away from questions from her.  It's not my style to answer a question by saying, "we'll talk about that when you get a little bit older."  I challenge myself to find an age appropriate way to explain things to her.  I want her to always feel comfortable asking me anything, and to know that I'll be respectful enough of her question that I'll do my best to answer it.

But ya know, sometimes it gets tricky.

Especially when my kid asks questions that I wouldn't expect to be asked at her age...even from my kid.  Like when she asked about 9-11.

She did.  Last month she point blank looked at me and said, "Mommy, what's up with September 11th?"

For serious.

Uhhhhh....what? How do you explain September 11th to a three year old?  It's pretty hard to understand for most grown ups. How do you explain unexplainable acts of terrorism to a child?  I had no idea.  I wasn't prepared.  Fortunately it was seconds away from her naptime.  I could buy a tiny bit of time to gather my thoughts.

I did what any rational person in my position would do.  I consulted Facebook.  I had a two hour nap span to figure out what the heck I was gonna say to this kid.  Here's what I got:

 


Lots of good advice, huh?  I really appreciated everyone weighing in. Really really appreciated it.

Cause sure enough, the minute she woke up she remembered.  "Mama, are you gonna tell me about September 11th now?"  There was no reason to ask how she heard about it...it was the 10th anniversary this year and everywhere we turned we saw the twin towers...on TV, on the newspaper, on the magazine covers in the grocery store line.

"Sure Sade, what do you want to know about it?"

"What's up with it?"

(I knew there were two things I was NOT going to talk about...planes and tall buildings.  Specifically planes flying into tall buildings.  She's only three after all.)

I took Mary's suggestion, "Well, can you tell Mama what you know about September 11th?"

She didn't miss a beat, "I know there were planes that flew into the buildings."

Gulp. I wasn't prepared for that.



"Sadie, what country do we live in?"

"America."

"That right, we live in America.  Sadie, do you know what freedom means?"

"No."  (I wasn't expecting that she did.)

"It means that you can be friends with whomever you want to be friends with.  And you can be whatever you want to be when you grow up.  And you can..."

"I can wear whatever pretty clothes I want to wear?"

"Yes, you can."

"And I can play with whatever toys I want to play with, even if they're boy toys?"

"Yes, freedom means all of those things Sade.  And in America we have freedom, isn't that cool?"

"Yeah."

"But some people don't like that we have freedom in America."

"Why not?

"Cause they just do things differently in their country."

"Is that why they flew the airplanes into those buildings?"   

[Shit.]

"Well, yes that's part of it, Sade.  They did a really really bad thing to America, just cause they don't like the way we do things."


"And they did that on September 11th?"
"Yes, Sadie, they did."

"In New York and Washington?

"Yes, Sadie, that's where it happened.  I know you like to visit both of those places too."

"Mommy...that's not nice that they did that."

"It's not.  And that's why it's kind of a big deal.  Cause they did a really un-kind thing.  And it made many people really sad..."  [I knew I needed to address the plane thing...even though I didn't want to]  "But you know Sadie, you know how when we go to the airport, we have to go through security?  You know that section where we have to take our shoes off and walk through the screeners like a big girl?"

"Yeah Mommy, I walk through by myself cause I'm big. You don't have to carry me anymore."

"I know, you're so big now.  Well, I want to make sure you know that the reason we do that is to make sure that everyone on the airplane is safe.  We have to walk through the screeners to make sure no mean people end up on the plane.  Everyone on the airplane is safe that way.  So you never have to worry about anything happening to us when you're on the airplane with Mommy, okay?  Mommy would never take you anywhere unsafe.  You know that, right?"

"That's right Mommy, no one's flying my airplane into a building!"  (Oh geez..)

"But Sadie, most important, I want you to know that there are so many people who work very hard to keep us safe.  Soldiers, and police officers, and firefighters...they all work very hard to make sure we're safe and so no one can ever hurt America like that again.  And on September 11th, its really important that we remember to say thank you to them for keep us safe, okay?  That's what I really want you to know about September 11th...to be thankful for all of those people protecting us, okay?"

"Kay Ma."

And that was it. 

I've learned with this kid just to give it to her straight.  If I try to beat around the bush or say something to appease her without REALLY answering her question, she won't let up.  It's best for me to just talk to her until she gets it, and then be done.

I don't even know if what I told her was "right," or enough, or too much....I don't know.  But I know that the conversation we had, though difficult, felt right.  And that's good enough for me.

But something I had to remember while we had this conversation was that her experience with 9/11 will be completely different from my experience with 9/11.  She will never have that visceral reaction to the day that those of us who lived through it have.  She'll never be able to tell the story of what she was doing when she heard the news, or where she was.  To her it will be something she learns about in school.  It will be a Memorial Day of sorts, another event in American history.  She won't experience the horror that we all experienced on that day.  I compare it to my experience with Pearl Harbor--it was something I read about, and learned about in school, but until 9/11, I never experienced that type of terror firsthand.  Never in my lifetime.

I pray that she never knows that feeling.  I hope that she gets to live her life blissfully unaware of what it feels like to fear that your country is under attack.

I know there are so many other children exactly her age in other countries around the world who will not have that luxury.

I think it's also important to add that I don't think the proper way for her to learn about September 11th is by watching the events of that day replay on TV over and over and over again.  It's actually one thing I really don't like---how every year in the beginning of September we see that footage over and over again.  We watch those buildings crumble before our eyes over and over again.  Every year I can't help but think about all those families who lost a loved one.  And how every time they see that footage on TV, they are re-living the moment that their loved one lost their life.  I can't even imagine if it was my mom, or my dad, or my sister in those planes or in those buildings on September 1th.  And to watch that moment replay every year on the anniversary of that day.

I really think there is some way that we can remember that day and all the lives lost, and memorialize all of those heroes without constantly showing footage of the planes hitting the buildings.  Or the buildings tumbling to the ground.  Or the "jumpers" leaping to their death.  Or the people in the streets running for their lives.  It almost seems like it's replayed for the shock value...to evoke those horrible feelings again.

I think we owe it to the families of the 2,977 people who lost their lives that day.


And one day I'll probably show her the pictures I have of her mom and her Godfather, my dear friend Nick J and I, both of us barely 20 years old, running all over New York City in August 2001, blissfully unaware that the next time we visited NYC it would be during the "post 9/11" era and that magical skyline would be forever changed.

Nick and I.  August 2001.  This photo was sitting in a frame on top of my TV in my dorm as I watched the events of the day unfold.  I watched the skyline change before my eyes and kept thinking, "how this be?  We were just there?"


I'll continue to raise my girl as metropolitan as I can, to love all of the amazing things those cities offer us, and to take advantage of our close proximity as much as possible.  And I'll try my best to answer her toughest of questions, even if I don't have my parenting manual handy.


But I still would've preferred for her to ask the sex question.  At least I've prepped for that.

For serious.

4 comments:

Dawn said...

What a beautiful post. Love that little girl and her mama.

Sherri said...

Love your writing as always. I think you handled the situation wonderfully.

Anonymous said...

<3 it! For serious. You took something that is very hard for us adults to completely grasp and turned it into a great learning experience for your young daughter to understand. She may not fully understand everything, but has the general knowledge to be able to understand to the best of her capabilities. That conversation was perfect.
Colleen/Nate's Mom

kerri said...

Of course the shock value of Sadie Mirjaf is a real one...I sometimes I forget I am only speaking to 3 year old because she is so much more advanced than Sean. You always do amaze me though, how you handle things. She's a lucky little girl!

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