The Death Conversation with a Three-Year-Old

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I found out that I couldn’t attend my grandmother’s funeral in my ob-gyn’s office. After my doctor observed that I was several centimeters dilated, I asked, “So I shouldn’t go to New Jersey on Monday then?” Looking up from between my legs, she said, “No, You probably shouldn’t travel out of state.” Between the fact that I missed the funeral and the baby was born that afternoon meant that I never told my older son about my grandmother’s death. He had only met her once, briefly, so it would have met little to him anyway. But it made me realize how urgent it was to talk about the subject with him.

In particular, my other grandmother is getting up in years. Sprout has met “Grammy” several times and remembers her. While her passing may be years away, there’s no way to know. Needless to say, I didn’t want finding out about her death to be Sprout’s introduction to the topic.

But I had no idea where to start.

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What You Don’t See

“So what time do you get home?” I asked. I desperately wanted to know how my friends had managed to solve the conundrum of living in the suburbs with young kids – how to spend time with them while also getting them to bed at a reasonable hour. They had just told me that they got their one-year-old to bed by 7:30 pm, a feat that has never happened at our house.

“6:30,” my friend replied, shrugging. “We grab her something out of the fridge and do the bedtime routine.”

I blinked. They didn’t have dinner together. Or much time together at all on weekdays. I literally had not considered that possibility.

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On Little Bird’s First Birthday

Photo: Baby lying next to a swaddled teddy bear; Text: "On Little Bird's First Birthday / We'll Eat You Up, We Love You So"

“Ah ah, come back here!” I yelp as my baby once again arches his back, flips over and stands up on his changing table. Somewhere between wrestling and tickling him, I finally manage to get a fresh diaper on. But that’s Little Bird at one year old – high energy and big emotions.

When he was first born, he was a touch over five pounds. He was just bigger than his teddy bear, swaddled in thin blankets. Still convinced that he belonged in the womb, he dozed in the pack-and-play even when his brother was sing-yelling next to him. At first, it seemed like he was going to be adorably sleepy and quiet.

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Storytime with Hop and Bun, the Imaginary Bunnies

Photo: Stuffed white rabbit sitting on a bookshelf. Text:

This is actually Snowball, our “pet bunny.” But good luck getting a photo of an imaginary friend.

“Tell me a Hop and Bun story,” Sprout says, his pants around his ankles as he’s sitting on the toilet. Perched on the side of the bathtub, I look off into the distance, as if I can pluck an idea from the mirror above the sink. “Hmmmm, well,” I stall, wracking my brain. “Once upon a time, there were two bunnies, named Hop and Bun. They were best friends. One day…”

Eventually, I always come up with something. The plots have ranged from the hapless bunnies getting lost on the subway to saving up money and buying a scooter.

While I love telling Sprout stories – despite the odd circumstances – that’s not my favorite part of this routine. No – it’s the fact that Hop and Bun are utterly from Sprout’s imagination. I played no part in their creation. They aren’t drawn from a book or TV show. One day, Sprout just declared that he was a bunny named Hop and Bun was his friend.

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10 Ways a “Simple Afternoon” Can Go Awry

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The afternoon stretched before me, ripe with potential. With Chris taking the car in for repairs, I had the kids to myself on a warm, sunny day. The park nearby beckoned. The seeds for our garden still needed starting, months before they could go in the ground. And we still had the make-your-own bird feeder activity I had promised Sprout that we would do since we got birdseed in church for some mysterious reason. Why not do it all? None of it would take very long, right? Silly me.

Here’s a few of the ways an afternoon filled with old-fashioned activities can go not-quite-as-planned:

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The Before and After of Motherhood

Text: "The Before and After of Motherhood / We'll Eat You Up, We Love You So" Photo: Woman climbing on the side of a cliff.

I was never cool. All of those things women lament about giving up when they have kids? I never did them. Instead, my transformation as a mom has been more subtle but no less radical.

I never went out clubbing. Okay, I did, but I usually complained that it was too loud or too crowded or played music I didn’t like. My husband worked nights and weekends for years and I wasn’t going to go alone, so it was a rare occasion at best.

I never dressed up in perfect makeup and stiletto heels. Mascara makes my eyelashes stick to my face. Lipstick makes my lips feel weird. I’ve never even tried to wear stilettos. The only time I’ve ever been in full makeup was my wedding; it felt like a mask.

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Being Present in the Dark

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The room is dark and my eyelids flutter. My baby, who is in my arms, squirms and calls out, shrieking, then whimpering. I startle awake and gaze down at him, taking in his round cheeks and elfin nose. His eyes are closed, but out of exhaustion, not relaxation. Cries of pain and discomfort slip from his mouth, no matter how much I hug or rock him. His teeth are coming in and even medicine isn’t quite enough.

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