A few weeks ago we strolled into a local pizzeria for a family dinner. A muted red carpet, upbeat pictures decorated the walls and every table appeared taken by couples and families. The waitress escorted us to a small table in the back. As I walked through the aisles, I sensed a happiness threading strangers together. In my periphery, I noticed a mom hunched over a stroller touching her baby’s cheek and the resulting giggle from new life experiencing laughter for the first time. At another table, a couple sat close together with linked hands and the look of young love. A brother and sister ran in between the tables with mischievousness only children can understand.
My daughter and I took a seat at our appointed seats, while my husband went to the restroom. On the back door, a painted Elvis with his classic white jumpsuit and matching shoes smiled at our table. Elvis is a common conversation topic in our household because my daughter shares the same birthday as the King.
“Momma, look, Elvis is on the door.” It took my daughter only a few seconds to notice her birthday buddy.
“Yes, I see. It is Elvis.” I fumbled with the silverware while answering her question.
“Momma, I have a question. What happens when you die?” My daughter asked this question with a determined gaze that looked to me for answers.
I hope she didn’t notice my mouth gaping open, wondering how she jumped on this topic when we were talking about Elvis a few seconds ago.
Parenting moments often arise in the middle of things. Several thoughts entered my head. I don’t really want to have this discussion right now. How do I answer this question? What is the right answer? Is there a response that will satisfy her curiosity? What about follow-up questions? How do I explain something I don’t even completely understand?
My foot started moving up and down under the table and my palms felt sweaty. My stalling techniques could not continue. I needed to answer her question.
“Well, honey, why are you asking this question?” I probed further to determine why her mind turned to this particular thought.
“I wanted to know what happened to Elvis. Did he go to the hospital? And what happens after you go to the hospital? Did heaven come and get him?” Her questions kept tumbling on top of one another.
“Well, honey, I don’t know exactly what happens.” Was this an appropriate place to talk about karma and the Hindu perspective of what happens after you die? I struggled to piece the right words together.
“I am not certain what happened to Elvis, honey, but you don’t need to think about that right now. Why don’t you look at the menu and decide what you want to eat?”
I know. I caved. Her question falls into the category of one that I am not ready to explain. There will be other opportunities to revisit this subject, but for now, my vision is centered on stretching her innocence for as long as I can. I want her to focus on laughing babies, white picket fences and happiness.
She will learn. In her own time.
For now, “I don’t know” felt right for both of us.
Image: Life is a precious gift by Doug Wheller via Flickr