As we backed out of the driveway on our way to preschool this morning, my daughter asked “Mama, why is your mama dead?”
I swallowed, “Well, honey, she got really really sick. And her body just stopped working. The doctors and nurses couldn’t make her better. So now she’s living with the angels.”
“Why can’t the angels make her better?”
“Umm,” I thought. “Good question.”
“Well, when you are in Heaven with the angels, it’s not like living on earth. What lives on is your spirit and soul, your essence, the things that make you special. When you are with the angels you no longer need to heal a broken body. That is not what the angels are about.”
She was quiet for a few seconds. Then at the corner she asked a different question. I couldn’t understand her, so I stopped the car and turned around.
“What did you say? I didn’t hear the last part.”
“Do mermaids poop?”
“Do mermaids poop?” I repeated wondering how we had turned the corner from theology to poop. (I fully realize how some of my skeptic friends would answer that statement.)
“Well, yes, mermaids are like fish or us or any other animal; they poop.”
“Where do they poop?”
“Where do they poop?” I repeated buying myself some time. “Well, like fish they just poop into the ocean.”
“Then they make the ocean all dirty and icky?”
“No. Because they are of the ocean—like fish, crabs, lobsters, manatees, and whales, the ocean can handle and filter clean their waste. The only waste that makes the ocean all dirty and icky is human waste because humans are not of the ocean, so our waste doesn’t belong there, and much of our waste isn’t natural. So it’s perfectly okay that mermaids poop in the ocean.”
She was quiet on the rest of our drive to school, and I thought about the relationship between mermaid poop and the death of a parent. For a four-year-old those two questions could well be big deals. For all I know there was a great play ground debate going on yesterday about whether or not mermaids poop. Or maybe that is strictly my daughter’s question. At any rate, I can imagine that learning that Ariel poops would probably be a huge disappointment as a larger-than-life character gains warts and bodily functions (even if that character is a completely fictional, nonexistant kind of entity).
And discovering that angels, whom you thought were totally and completely good and responsible for watching over you, don’t heal broken bodies, might give pause to a four-year-old too.
Or maybe not. As soon as we walked into school, she was running around playing tag with her friends completely unaware of the “big” talk we just had.
But I am aware, and as I think about my profession of faith to believe in the “resurrection of the body”, I wonder about my answer about angels. As I think about mermaid poop, I question my decision to make a fictional character “of the sea and nature” in my response to my daughter. I am discovering that parenting involves a lot of second guessing.
And I think again. No, she has a rich imagination, as she should have, and I don’t want to quash it with facts and reality at every point. Critical thinking and creative problem solving, science itself, require a vivid imagination. It’s clear from her questions that she is thinking, and that when two things don’t add up it is creating cognitive dissonance. My job is to acknowledge that dissonance, even when it is a direct challenge to something I have said or believe and encourage her questions and open discussion.
I’ve often heard people asked to name the person with whom they would most want to have an earnest dinner conversation. Right now I would have to answer my daughter. Never in a two-minute chat has someone given me so much to think about.