Dante, my highly inquisitive little 3 1/2 year old, and I were sitting down to our nightly ritual of watching Alex "Trevek" and Jeopardy the other night when he nonchalantly turned to me and said,
"Mommy, where do we go when we die?"
Dun, dun dun!!!!!!!! (insert scary music here). Uh-oh. I knew these questions were eventually going to turn up one day, but I certainly wasn't expecting them now....at 3 years old...just about to watch Jeopardy....when our last conversation involved describing how his recent poop looked like Soundwave from the Transformers. But, blame me and his dad for having a smart kid, so I should have seen this coming.
I immediately racked my brain with the normal frustrations and questions: How do I answer this honestly, but still not scare the hell out of my kid and scar him for life? I can't just up and say, "Dante, when you die, you get put in the ground and then worms and maggots eat through your eyeballs until you're a skeleton.", or better yet, "Dante, when you die, you get shoved in a box and put on a conveyor belt and baked at 700 degrees until you fit into a jar on someone's mantlepiece". I thought it best not to be that blunt or honest about it. That's all I need, an insomniac toddler with fears of death. Let him wait to be 35 years old to get like that. Trust me, it's no picnic.
Anyhow, I repeated his question to buy some time, and he said to me in an exasperated voice, "Come on Mom, just tell me already!" and I knew I had no choice to answer. My attempts to distract him with "Look D! The Jeopardy category is The Smithsonian!" weren't working so I swallowed hard and answered like this:
"Dante when we die we don't go anywhere. We just die. Our life is over. Our bodies are put in the ground and we become dirt to feed the grass, help flowers grow, or feed the trees. Sometimes, the dirt you turn into becomes a flower or gets blown away and becomes part of the air."
(notice I skipped the whole cremation option even though we all are opting for that when we perish from this mortal coil. But the whole "baked in an oven" idea, I'm not sure he is ready for.)
After hearing all of this, D looked at me for a moment and I became worried that I had been too honest, but really, I wasn't going to tell him that we go to "magic fairy land", sprout wings, and chill out with all of our dead relatives. So I asked him, "Is that ok with you?" and he said, "Yea, I want to be a big Orange tree when I am dead."
Whew! Crisis averted, at least on my end. I have to be honest but I am dreading these upcoming questions, not so much for him, but for myself because I know I have to answer them unbiasedly and honestly. I can't up and say, "Dante, there is no god and believing in one is just a crutch to not take personal responsibility in your own life". That certainly would not be kosher. Unfortunately there aren't many resources out there for having the "religion talk" with your child that doesn't involve handing your kid a bible and indoctrinating him on the spot. So, I'm kind of going to have to wing it and remember what my mom and dad said to my brother and me. They were "fair and balanced" (ewwww I just quoted FAUX News!) and we still turned out ok.
I consider this a good jumping off point. This wasn't so hard. I'm patting myself on the back, I admit it. I only hope he doesn't ask me how the stock market works, because then I'm toast.