Sunday, January 27, 2013

Can a 24 month old grasp the concept of death?

R.I.P Poor Butterfly.
The other day, while we were stuck in the middle of all our health drama, a butterfly flew into the house and got trapped in the living room window.

Our living room has a tall slanting roof with four small windows situated high up to let the light in. Often bees and flies and other winged insects buzz their way happily into our living room only to perish up high in the concentrated sun beams.

This is just the way of things. And usually I don't care. But that day I did care about the butterfly.

I realize I'm a bit of a hypocrite. Just Friday (on my blog) I was feeling sorry for ugly cows being sentenced to slaughter and here I am today confessing my pity for a pretty insect, but not giving a rats arse about the ugly ones. (What can I say? I'm fickle).

We'd just walked in the house after getting little Miss D's MRI and S-boy was excited to tell us about the butterfly. I could hear some frantic flapping overhead, and when the hubs and I stepped back to look up high we could just about make out the terrified flappy insect trying fruitlessly to escape through the glass.

"Poor butterfly!" sympathized the hubs.

(remember, little piggies have big ears...)

"Awww, can we save him?" I asked the hubs hopefully. He looked at me with a 'you've got to be having a laugh!?' expression.

I didn't push it. I didn't have the energy. And we really did have bigger fish butterfly to fry that day.

The truth is, we could have saved it, if we'd really wanted to. But it would have been a huge hassle to clear the way of furniture and carry in the really tall ladders from outside. And the chances of smashing the TV, knocking a lump out of the wall or maiming a kid were far greater than the chances of saving the 'poor butterfly's' life.

So we left the poor thing up there to roast to death. Somehow it felt like really bad karma to me.

"You know what Chaos Theory is right?" I asked the hubs jokingly. "A butterfly flaps its wings at one side of the world..."

"...and there's a Tsunami at the other side of the world" the hubs finished the hypotheses for me. So he knew the theory. He still wasn't bringing the ladders in.

I was sent to get a nap (I hadn't gotten a wink of sleep the previous night for worrying over baby girl) and I didn't argue. I forgot all about the poor butterfly and its reverberating wings and the hundreds of potential tsunamis we were causing across the world.

I didn't think about poor butterfly until the next afternoon. We were all in the living room and I happened to look up and see the butterfly sitting on the tapestry. It was very still.

Hmmm. How had it flapped itself to death in the window and laid itself to rest on our global tapestry - somewhere in Australia to be exact? Maybe it had been trying to tell us where in the world its 'Chaos Theory' flapping had stirred up trouble....

The hubs wasn't so sure it was dead.

(remember, little piggies have big ears....)

It was. I stood underneath and had a look see, and there were charred holes in its beaten butterfly carcass. That thing was as dead as a dodo. It was too high to reach it so I figured we'd just leave it up there. It was kind of cool looking in a macabre sort of way.

Later that same day...

Our almost two year old happened to be standing directly underneath the tapestry when that poor butterfly fluttered down and landed at his feet. His face lit up at the sight of the once beautiful creature, and before he really saw it he exclaimed joyfully,

"Poor Butterfly!" He obviously didn't know what 'poor' meant... yet. And he bent down excitedly and picked up that poor butterfly with one hand.

I watched all this, curious to see what would happen. I never for one second imagined he'd react like he did.

When he saw the beaten up wings and realized that it wasn't moving anymore his face crumpled up in a horrified look of despair (that sounds kind of extreme, but his sad little expression is still haunting me).

He screamed and dropped the poor butterfly, then raced over and threw himself in my arms crying "It's trash!" and "Poor Butterfly's trash!"

I honestly did not know what to think. A siren was going off in my head alerting me that my 24 month old had just cottoned on to the concept of death.

Noooo!!!! My subsoncious wasn't convinced. My 3 and half year old has never reacted to a dead insect in such a way. I reasoned that maybe my 24 month old was just upset that it was 'broken'. But then he hadn't given two hoots about Buzz Lightyear's arm getting ripped off the other week.

The whole thing kind of knocked me off balance, and broke my heart a little.

Not being prepared for tackling the concept of death with my not yet two year old I rocked him and said, "Its okay Baby, he's gone. Poor Butterfly's gone." and I did the 'all done' sign in ASL. But when my kid craned his neck around the dead insect was quite clearly still on the carpet for my baby boy to see.

"No!" he wailed again. "It's trash!" Big fat tears rolled down his cheeks.

"Do you want to put it in the trash?" I asked gently. (I know, I did say I was totally unprepared for this conversation. And he usually loves taking trash to the trashcan.)

He wasn't game for trashing Poor Butterfly. God, how insensitive am I?

Eventually he was distracted by a hammock. I followed my sensitive little guy out on to the deck and looked at his Daddy.

"Did you hear any of that?" I asked after exhaling a deep breath.

"Enough." He said.

Which brings me to the following thought. Where do the non-believers go to when we they die?

Wait - don't answer that.

I hear there's a hot spot retirement location for all the baddies out there, but do the non-believers get lumped in with that crowd too?

And what about us half heathens still sitting on the fence because we read a lot about the Big Bang Theory and Evolution and Dinosaurs when we were kids? Where do we end up?

I figure the answer is nowhere. Being dead is like being asleep, and not dreaming, and not waking up. Ever.

God, that's depressing. And SO not what I want to tell my kids.

So what, if I don't really believe in heaven? I don't believe in Santa Clause, or the Easter Bunny, or the Tooth Fairy, but I'm not going to begrudge my kids that magic. Why not give them heaven (and hell) too?

And anyway, what if I'm wrong. What if there IS a heaven?

I voiced these concerns to a friend of mine tonight. She's not confused about this like I am. I said (only half joking), What if I promise them heaven, and there isn't one? I don't want them to be disappointed!

That made us laugh. It's so damn depressing, and ridiculous, it's funny. But it sort of cinched it for me.

Even if I don't know where my sorry ass will end up, I don't have to sentence my own offspring to the same mortal despair. I can tell them all about Heaven. I can tell them that although Mommy doesn't know for sure, lots of people believe we go to a place called Heaven when we die.

Then they can believe it too if they want.

*Phew! I'm glad that's sorted. Now I'm more or less half prepared for our next 'Poor Butterfly' incident.

I think we'll keep the doors closed for the next 6 years.


  1. I do not believe unequivolently in Heaven, but I do keep my fingers crosssed.

  2. unequivicably? one of those.

  3. and that's always been my theory of how religion began. sounds better than you live, you play, you work, and then you don't!

  4. Wow. I wasn't expecting where you were going with this. And by the way, my kid, too, loves putting stuff in the trash and I feel badly still for the time he played with an almost dead fly 3 years ago and said "EW" which he says to this day for every bug...
    Re: the where do we go...
    I like to think that because our bodies are "energy" and that energy doesn't dissipate (science) that some spark of us (probably not conscious although I wish it were) remains...
    hard stuff, this stuff. And amazing post. Love your writing. Huge.

  5. I think you have the right idea---tell your children all that you know and let them make up their own minds when they are adults. I think that is the best way. I was sad about the butterfly.....

  6. well, that is the beauty of being childlike....they see the eyes the legs the web and the now...we adults see the spider and think of the past and future

  7. That is kind of a heartbreaking story! I am with you- I dont' know exactly what to tell my kids about the afterlife, because I'm not certain exactly what I believe. Izzy is old enough that she hears kids talk about heaven all the time (for real) and we have told her, "nobody really knows what happens after you die, but some people believe in heaven, and I believe that our souls go on to someplace, but I don't know where." Feels like a copout.
    Also, health crisis? MRI? What the fuck did I miss? I am frantically scrolling your last few posts? Was I so sick when I was reading your FTSF that I missed something serious???

  8. Joise, You handled the whole situation well. Your little one didn't have to know anymore than what you told him. I am a believer, but agree, that choice has to be your child's own.
    Children are amazing little creatures all on their own, aren't they?
    I'd be a hypocrite to tell you I'd save the butterfly. I step on every spider I see. :(