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Car conversations: Observations and questions from the back seat

Jen Klein is a New England-based technical writer and mother of three. When she isn't asking her kids to stop bickering, "caramelizing" the dinner or actively ignoring the dust bunnies under the couch, she enjoys knitting, gardening, pho...

From silly to serious (and back)

As we drive around town, running errands, picking up brothers, or meeting friends at the playground, Sunshine and I have some very interesting conversations about, well, anything and everything.

From silly to serious (and back)
We talk about what we see out the window, where we are going and who we will see, upcoming plans, what is for dinner, why her cat stuffed animal is better than her frog, but maybe not, and maybe the frog is really her favorite, not the cat. Wait, wait, no, neither are the best, the giraffe back home is really the favorite and Mommy, why didn't we bring the giraffe? I love him so, so much, Mommy, you should have remembered to bring him. Mommy? MOMMY!

Apparently I missed the memo on parental mind reading.

Sometimes the conversations are nonsensical: Sunshine is just being silly, and she knows it. Those are the conversations that include in lots and lots of giggling. She makes up words or she makes up songs, and we babble away the drive.

Sometimes the conversations are circular: she asks the same couple or three questions again and again and again, no matter how I answer. Those conversations usually end up with both of us frustrated if I don't convince her to change the subject before it goes too far.

Sometimes the questions and conversations are more serious and require careful consideration by me of my answer.

Remembering a good friend

Recently, Sunshine has been asking questions about our cat, Mr. S.  Dear, elderly Mr. S died in January after a difficult decline. Even though Mr. S had been a part of Sunshine's life from the start, even though we were honest with her about what was happening with Mr. S, as it happened, and even though she was there when he died, we wondered what she really understood about what happened. She was only three, after all.

When Sunshine talks about Mr. S, she talks about missing him and talks about what a good friend he was. She says he was so soft and she liked how he purred - and occasionally wonders aloud, when he is going to come back? I gently affirm her statements about Mr. S having been a good friend but I tell her that he won't come back because he died. Sometimes I remind her of Mr. S's funeral in the backyard and ask if she would like me to point out the rocks that mark his grave. She says yes. Then she says we need to move the rocks so he can crawl out. And, Mommy? When can we get new kittens? I want to name one "Fluffyhead."

Okay, she doesn't quite get it. She will, in time.

Making connections

Just before Mr. S died, there was a fair bit of talk in our house of my father, the kids' grandfather, because I was making a book about him for my kids and their cousins for the holidays. My father died the year before Sunshine was born, so sadly she never met him. While I was scanning in photos, Sunshine asked me many questions about the man in the picture. When I described him as my daddy, like she has her daddy, she seemed to get it. Of course, then she asked where he was. I was truthful and told her that he died and couldn't be with us anymore, but that we always remember him.

Since then, and since Mr. S's passing, Sunshine will occasionally start talking about her grandfather and how much she misses him. It's very sweet. I wondered how much she really understood, but figured it was part of an ongoing learning process, so decided to let it happen, answer her questions and validate her feelings. As I said, it was very sweet, and I often had a tear in my eye during these conversations.

This morning on the way to school, Sunshine started talking about her grandfather again. She talked about how much she missed him, how it was her grandfather that died, and that wasn't fair. I agreed.

Then she asked when we could get a new grandfather.

"What did you say, love?" I asked.

She replied, "We need to get a new grandfather because mine died and I need a grandfather."

Oh, that's what I thought she said.

At first I didn't know what to say. Then I remembered all the conversations about Mr. S, and the boys' regular refrain that we'll get new kittens soon.

 

She doesn't quite get it yet, obviously.

I gently tried to explain that it doesn't work that way. That it's very sad her grandfather isn't here, but we can't just go buy a new one. I kept it short.

 

"Oh," she said. Then she remarked on the forsythia we were driving by, and I chuckled a little to myself. Sweet girl.

I don't doubt that there are many such conversations yet to have, and, one day, she'll get it. We have plenty of time and plenty of car rides for that.

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