I woke up to Bear’s panicked voice over the baby monitor this morning.
‘Bubba! Bubba! I wan Bubba!’
‘Bubba’ seems to be ‘brother’ and is what he calls Tyger (though, more and more he’s trying to use Tyger’s actual name…which is amazing and a teeny bit sad at the same time).
Considering Tyger was sitting up in his bed, which is pushed right up against Bear’s to the point they almost sleep in a double bed, looking extremely confused I can only imagine Bear had a nightmare where something happened to Tyger.
I reassured him. I pointed out Tyger was right next to him and was fine. I got into his bed and had a cuddle for a while since their Gro-Clock wasn’t yet yellow.
That’s when Tyger started his worrying.
‘Mummy, will Daddy die one day?’
Wolf had already warned me Tyger’s been talking about death. I knew it was only a matter of time before he brought it up with me. Nothing really prepares you for the fear in your child’s eyes when they start contemplating death, though.
‘Yes, Darling. But not for a very long time.’
‘Mummy…will I die one day?’
I wanted to say ‘no’ so badly. I wanted to tell him he would never die or get ill or suffer or have to watch terribly boring films like Lost in Translation or The Blair Witch Project. I wanted that to be true.
But, instead, I said, ‘Yes, Tyger. Everyone dies. But you won’t die for a long, long, long time.’
Which I hope is true.
Three times since he’s tearfully told me, ‘I don’t want to die.’
I’m at a loss. What I feel like doing is breaking down and crying with him. I want to tell him I don’t want him to die, either, and I don’t want Wolf and I to die and leave him and Bear without us.
I don’t want to lie to him – as tempting as it is – but the truth seems so stark for a sensitive four year old.
I’ve tried to stay positive and breezy but he started asking who would get him his dinner, who would help him get dressed, who would get his toy tubs out for him. I don’t know if he was alluding to Wolf and I dying or if he was talking about in the event of his own death…I didn’t ask…I didn’t want to know.
An interest in understanding death is a normal part of child development but I know many autistic children can get obsessed with it and with ruminating over all the details, leading to huge spikes in anxiety. I hope this is the former and not the start of the latter.
Part of parenting is having to explain things you’d prefer not talk about but I’d rather explain anything the cubs will ever want to know about human bodies, sex, puberty, periods, and any other awkward topic in one go than see the look in Tyger’s earnest, brown eyes when he asks if his grandparents will die, if his friends will die, if everyone dies.
Yes, everyone dies. Right now, I just need to keep reminding myself the very reason Tyger is able to ask me such heartbreaking questions is because he’s alive and well. He’s worried but he’s here and that makes me – and him – so fracking lucky.