I am wrestling with how to explain Bad Things to my kid. I know those who parent older children have wrestled with many Bad Things and the challenges therein, so I welcome advice if you have it. You don’t want to freak a kid out, but you also can’t let them go around thinking nothing bad ever happens. I’ve decided perhaps the best way I can go about this is to let my son know that generally speaking, good things even out the bad things; maybe not in actual number (though more often than not, that might actually be true – I’ve not tallied it up that way), but at least emotionally, since that’s where the impact is felt the most.
Pretty soon, once we get actual confirmation, we’re going to have to tell D that his best friend at school is not coming back. He’s been out for 2 weeks now and everyone at school is just waiting for the confirmation that the kid is leaving, as his high-profile parent with a high-profile job is likely moving to another city. D has been asking about this kid for a while, and it will be his first such disappointment. He’s also started asking questions about certain stories we read where someone dies, like the one I read the other day where some girl was a housekeeper never allowed to leave the house of her boss for years, and then one day, the woman died, and the housekeeper went to another house and then that lady was really nice and gave her the house after a while when she moved away. “Why did that lady die?” he asked me. He doesn’t really know what it is yet, and with my own obsessive death fears lately, the last thing I want to do is scare him. Yet I do find myself repeating my Mom’s mantra sometimes when I force him into learning to handle something himself despite his protestations, like making him put on his own shirt or at least attempting to brush his teeth: “I’m not always going to be around to do it for you.” Which I probably shouldn’t say, but I don’t mean it in a death way, I just mean (and usually explain) that he’ll grow up one day and move out so he will need to do these things for himself.
In thinking about some of the really bad stuff that’s happened to me, I do think there’s a fair amount of counterbalance, even if sometimes I’m reluctant to brand something a “positive” because it’s not all sunshine and roses. I really, really hate my job, for example, and there are times it is so stressful I feel as if I might explode, and yet I know I am lucky to have this job, to have had it for 9 years, to have the health insurance and paid vacation days it brings, to have the luxury of sitting on my ass at a desk all day instead of working in a coal mine or on a crab boat or in a horse vitamin packing plant, wearing a mask and gloves all day long so I don’t breathe in too many particulate emissions.
I was horribly, horribly sick for 5 long, terrible years. I was never able to complete my dance minor because of it, and barely managed to graduate by extending my stay a little to accommodate classes I needed to have to graduate but had to drop because I was too sick to go most of the time. I missed out on a lot of fun things over those years. I had to completely give up acting, traveling and going to cheap restaurants that don’t have bathrooms, and I obtained and quit several jobs during that time that I was unable to work because, for example, I couldn’t stand at the cashier stand without a break for four hours. But I was able, with the help of my doctor, to get curative surgery performed on me by one of, if not THE top surgeon in the nation for the type of problem I had, and resume a pretty much completely normal life after that, which is a big weight on the other side of the scale.
I lost my Dad when I was 21. But my Mom, to whom I am and have always been much closer to, is still around and lives in Cleveland, and I get to see her regularly.
And so on.
I don’t think anyone explained this balancing out thing to me. The Greeks have a propensity towards complaining about everything, all the time, and sitting around bitching, weekly, about how much things suck, trying to one-up each other about who has more sucky shit going on in their life. “Your knee? Christ, I haven’t been able to see out of my left eye for 6 months now!” My grandmother wrote a little note on her oversized calendar every day as to the day’s events, e.g. “Saturday, March 5. Nobody came by today. Rain all day.” “Easter Sunday. Fred was supposed to take me to church but he forgot, and I sat by the window all day waiting for him.”
Maybe I can try explain to him that the roller coaster goes up, but it also comes down. Again and again. But the ups and downs are temporary and overall, you walk on even ground.