I am terrible with kid questions. My five-year-old niece is the worst. We were sitting in the living room with the family dog John Doe when she pointed to a vase with two preserved if wilted roses, her mother’s keepsakes.
“When do mummy’s flowers get red again?”
When faced with questions about mortality from a five-year-old my ingrained response (from my Special Forces training) is distraction.
“What does John Doe think?” I say. The truth is John Doe is resting and isn’t thinking anything, let alone pondering dead flowers. He does however look at me, as if to say, “Work it out, Dude, and answer the kid.”
And the kid isn’t letting go. “All the other flowers are red but Mommy’s are always brown and they just stay that way. When do they turn red again?”
I think back to my years of college training (before the Special Forces) and every book I’ve ever red about roses and five-year-olds (none).
“Mommy put those flowers aside to remember them but now they’re gone, and when they’re gone they don’t get their color back.”
Bad idea. Rule of thumb: never introduce travel.
“Where did they go?”
“They just got old.”
“Do we all go someplace when we get old?”
On page 56 of the Special Forces handbook, it specifically states, “Never give five-year-olds interrogation capacity. If this occurs, immediately pet dog on nearest rug.”
Except John Doe is now snoring, or snorting, or both.
“When we get old, we all go someplace. We leave.”
“Do we get all flaky and dark like the flowers?”
“Some of us, sort of, but that’s when we’re very old, not like you. You’re very young!”
“Will I look like the flower?”
I know: you’re saying, “Just talk to the kid about death, you idiot; she’s old enough.” But her mom believes in life everlasting and has told me to stay away from the subject, as in: “If you ever talk to her about death I’ll kill you…”
“Look at Uncle Joey,” I say reasonably enough. “He’s old, but he’s not flaky and dark! He’s thin and happy!”
“But you have an old face, with lines,” she says, suddenly turning sad. “Will I get those kinds of lines? When do Mommy’s flowers get red again?”
There comes a time in conversation (and in jungle warfare) when you have to accept you’ve been defeated. The only thing you need to decide is how to surrender.
“When flowers get old that way, they never get red again. We just have to remember how they were when they were red. Like remembering John Doe as a puppy!”
I hit the magic word — puppy!
“Will we get a new puppy?”
I now pet John Doe (belatedly following the book), who wakes up, picks up his iPhone, and checks in with Special Forces HQ: “He got through it,” he says, “but just barely. Please keep him away from us until he gets more training.”