According to the line at the grocery store, I am a horrible mother.
Yesterday my daughter’s heart was broken and I allowed it to happen. Granted,
I didn’t do it on purpose I didn’t know it was going to happen so soon…but, just as sure as if I had pulled it out of her chest and did a little jig on it, I broke her little tender heart…
Maybe I should start at the beginning.
It seemed like a good idea at the time. Chickadee wanted a pet of her very own, and we had had to give up Tesla (to a very lovely family with much more property that we will likely ever have and two older kids that are absolutely committed to having a giant lug of a dog) before our halfway across the country move in a Toyota Corolla (plus we were living in corporate housing and hotels). So, last year, Chickadee (with the money she earned from doing extra chores) adopted George and Blur.
Chickadee became a hamster mommy. She was a darn good hamster mommy too. Never did they go without food or water and extra treats or love and attention. Sometimes too much–I’ll be honest, “Put George back in his cage” has been a frequent refrain over the past year. Even Blur, the hamster Houdini who hated being handled and would bite at least provocation, was very much loved (just not very much played with, unless it was in his hamster ball).
And so, it was with much heartbreak that Miss February (the “nanny”)* discovered Blur dead in his cage yesterday. As you may be able to imagine, Chickadee has been in tears, more than once, since it she found out what happened. After all, Blur was her friend and his death has been her first loss of a loved one.
Now we get to the part where I’m a bad mother. The part where I intended for this to happen, on purpose.
We chose for Chickadee to have a hamster because they are relatively easy to care for and as a way of teaching her responsibility for someone that would be dependent on her. But we also chose a hamster, in part, because we knew it would die in a relatively short time . Because we wanted her to understand that death is part of life’s cycle. Because we wanted her to learn what it really means when someone dies.
Our society has done so much to distance itself from death, that even adults have a remarkably skewed understanding and perception of death and dying. We wanted to introduce the kids to the idea that death is a natural happenstance, and that when a loved one dies, we wanted to teach them to mourn, to honor life with the rituals of death and to continue with their life in a way that honors the life of the one’s they love. And we wanted them to learn this on a small scale, now, with us, because none of us can ever know when we might encounter it on a larger scale.
I was having a conversation about all of this with Miss February (who had just discovered the hamster’s demise) while I was at the grocery store. I’m not sure what it is about the line at the grocery store that makes people think they should have a conversation with you, about whatever it was they have overheard (I’ve done it too), but the consensus was, in my grocery store line, that I am a bad mother. It wasn’t said quite so bluntly–instead it was said in the scathingly shocked tones of “Well, I would never do that!” and “I can’t believe someone would do that!”
Damn. ”I would never do that!” As if I had given my child Kool-aid flavored Drain-o Popsicles or let them play with glass shards in a known pedophile’s yard. But no, I am apparently a bad mother for letting my child’s feelings be hurt as a life lesson.**
I don’t particularly feel like a bad mother. Don’t get me wrong, I feel badly for my daughter, for her pain and her loss. But I certainly don’t feel like a bad mother because I allowed her to experience love and loss, and was able to decide that love was worth the loss on her own.
And guess what? Not only did Chickadee decide that her time with Blur was worth having “her heart hurt”, but she came to the conclusion of what would happen to Blur now that “his body stopped working”. If you’ve ever wondered what happens to hamsters after death, Blur’s spirit is now ”running around in never ending fun-tunnels with good treats” until the time comes for “him to come back as a big fat rabbit”. Additionally, Chickadee (with a few gentle suggestions and some help with scissors and glue) organized his burial–including decorating his casket, directing The Daddy Man on where to dig the hole, and creating her own little sermon.
Actually, I sort of feel like a “good” mother for having such a good-hearted and thoughtfully loving kid that is still capable of dealing with the realities of life with a pretty healthy outlook on life and maturity that is beyond her years.
…at least until she starts whining about me being a “mean mom” for not letting her have ice cream until she cleans up her toys.
*Saying we have a nanny sounds so ritzy, lol! Miss February is a friend of ours that we once helped out in a difficult situation, and now she is returning the favor for the summer by watching the kiddos and doing their homeschool lessons on the days that I work or need to run errands.
**The hubby and I like to say we are raising future adults. We certainly believe in letting them be kids–but that for us that means letting them learn from life, both good and bad, as it happens (and often without us hovering over them like a helicopter). Sometimes life hurts–physically, spiritually and emotionally. Raising a child that never learns that life hurts and isn’t taught in a safe place how to deal effectively with the little hurts by those that love them isn’t going to be equipped to handle the big hurts that come later, when one’s support system might not be immediately available, seems like being the “bad parent”***, in my book.
***Ugh…I can’t believe I can’t think of a better way to phrase that right now. Its so incredibly hot out and I’m cranky and lazy though, so the brain isn’t quite working full steam. The “bad parent” game is just so passé…but such an easy trap to fall into!