Monday, August 17, 2009

"Why do we never get an answer when we're knocking at the door?"*

I spent last week relaxing in Vermont; not exactly a jet-setting type of vacation, but one that was much needed. The room in which my husband and I stayed had a bird's nest on the outside sill. It had three little blue eggs (most likely robin eggs) in it.

(This was taken through the window...hence the weird glare)

When the kids (my 10-year-old nephew, 4-year-old niece, and 3-year-old nephew) arrived in Vermont, they all had to see the eggs. The novelty soon wore off for the boys, but my niece was a little obsessed with them. Every time she came downstairs, she just had to see the eggs. Then she started asking all these questions about the eggs.

Now, my niece is very curious (as most 4-year-olds are), but trying to answer some of her questions has gotten me into trouble before. Recently, I was wearing my dragon-claw necklace, and my niece wanted to know all about it. She loves when I make up stories, so I told her one about how I defeated a dragon and took his claw as a souvenir of my triumph. It sounds a bit gory, but I kept it pretty tame.

At some point during the story, my niece wanted to know what color the dragon was—I think I said it was blue because that's what color the stone in the necklace is—because clearly that's a very important detail when you're fighting a dragon. Then she asked why the claw wasn't blue anymore, and I said I had to dip it in metal to preserve it. "What's preserve?" she asked.

Somehow my explanation led to how living things—including people—decompose when they die, which I told her means they turn to dirt (I guess they really turn to dust, but dirt was easier for her to understand). She looked at me with big eyes and said, "I don't want to turn into dirt." I told her she didn't have to worry about that because she wasn't going to die for a very long time and hoped she would forget about it.

Well, she didn't. My niece now periodically asks her mother about when she or Grandma or whoever is going to die and turn into dirt. Mostly she thinks about this right before she goes to bed. My sister is so very pleased with me!

Anyway, back to Vermont. My niece asked, "When are the birds going to hatch?" I don't really believe in lying to kids (and my sister is pretty straight-forward with them), but I didn't want to repeat the turning-to-dirt episode, so I told her eggs usually only hatch in the spring and since it's already summer, these probably won't hatch.

She was okay with that for a little while, but not for long. "Why aren't they going to hatch?" Luckily, my sister and my mom were there to answer these questions, and I was off the hook. My mom said that without a mommy bird to keep the eggs warm, the babies inside can't hatch. "Where's the mommy bird?" My mom explained that maybe the mommy bird had to leave the babies. "Why would the mommy bird leave?" Well, no one really had a good explanation for that. We said that maybe the mommy bird was hurt, or even died, because some times that happens in nature, but none of our answers were really good enough.

I realized while we could give her scientific answers to her questions, they weren't really the answers she was looking for. And really, don't we all still have those questions? Why would a mother abandon her unborn offspring? Why do animals have to die? Where do they go when they die? Why do bad things happen to innocent beings?

I'm not sure what's harder: telling my niece that these bad things happen or not being able to really explain to her why these things happen because I don't know the answer myself.

*The Moody Blues