Yesterday, I found myself explaining both death and poverty to my son over the course of a ten minute drive to the craft store. Given that he's only 2, I found this disconcerting.
Death came first, in the form of him asking to see my parents' beagle, Julie. Julie died just about one year ago, and it's been longer than that since he has seen her. I explained to him that Julie got very, very old, and when people and animals get very, very old, they die. "Die?", he asked. I went on to explain that when people and animals die, they go to a place called heaven, where they are young and strong again, and they can run and play. Once a person or animal goes to heaven, we won't see them again, but they are very happy in heaven and they will be there waiting for us when someday we go to heaven.
This explanation seemed to satisfy him, particularly since I coupled it with a description of my childhood dog, Apple, who I told him was playing with Julie in heaven. At this point, we pulled up to the light to turn into the mall where the craft store is located. It's a rather long light on a busy divided highway, and on the median next to us was the usual homeless person begging for change.
"What's that man doing?"
This is the moment when many parents, even myself on a different day, would have airily responded, "Oh, nothing, sweetie." But already being in the frame of mind for difficult explanations, it didn't occur to me to brush off the question, and I responded honestly. "That man is asking people for money."
I will add here that we are open in our house about money. Daddy goes to work to earn money to pay for our house, our groceries, fun things like toys and going out to the coffee shop. We give all our spare change to E for his piggy bank, and when the bank is full, we take him to deposit its contents into his savings account. He also accompanies me on most shopping trips and understands that we have to pay for the things we get at the store.
"Yes, money. Some people don't have enough money to pay for a house to live in or food to eat, so they have to ask people for money, and that's what that man is doing."
Silence in the backseat. A quick peek in the rearview mirror reveals a furrowed brow.
"We have money?"
"Yes, we have money."
"We have money in our piggy bank?"
"Yes, we have money in our piggy bank."
Silence once more in the backseat. Checking the rearview mirror shows the furrowed brow is gone. We enter the craft store, where his attention immediately turns to the Cars stickers I've promised. These discussions, these hard truths, do not seem to have fazed him; he seems to have accepted them as simple information. Rather, I am the one who has struggled all day with the reality of my child growing up in a world where death and poverty are constant, with knowing that his innocence lessens with each passing day, and that there are many, many more hard questions to come.