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Last night in the bathtub, Aidan and I were talking about one of his best friends from school, and he said, “He has three kids in his family.”
“Yes, he does,” I said.
“His mom has to take care of all of them,” he said.
“Yup, sounds pretty hard, huh?”
“Why do they have three kids?” he asked.
“Because his mom and dad wanted three. Families can be all different sizes, like Daddy and I decided to only have one kid.”
“You should have two,” he said.
“A lot of families do have two kids,” I said. “Would you like that?”
“Uh huh, then I’d have someone to play with,” he said.
This is when my heart began to ache. In the past he’s generally said he didn’t want a sibling because he didn’t want to share us. This was new and, as the mother of an only child, it is my biggest concern. As a mother who lost her second child, it is also my greatest sadness.
“Yeah, sometimes it makes me sad that you don’t have a brother or sister,” I said. “But, you know, we did try to have another baby, but she died before she was born. You remember Nina.”
He nodded. “But I wouldn’t want a girl to play with. I’d want a boy.”
“You don’t get to choose!” I said.
“Why did Nina die?”
“We don’t know,” I said.
“What did the doctor say?”
“The doctors didn’t know either. No one could figure out why she died.”
“How did you find out?”
“That she’d died?”
“Well, usually when a baby is in your belly, you can feel her moving, but one day I couldn’t feel her moving anymore so I went to the doctor’s office and they looked at my belly with an ultrasound machine. That’s what they use to look inside your body. And they told me that she had died. They could tell because her heart wasn’t beating anymore.”
“And then what happened?”
“I had to deliver her, which means I had to get her out of my body.”
“How did you do that?”
“They gave me medicine to help my belly contract. When a woman has a baby, the belly contracts to push the baby out.”
I held my hands around my abdomen and squeezed my fingers together to show him what I meant by “contract.”
“This is the way all moms deliver babies,” I said. “It’s how I delivered you, too. Only Nina had already died, so it was really sad.”
“What happened after?”
“You mean after I had her?”
“Well, we saw her and held her and it was really sad.”
“And then what happened?”
“Well, when people die, either you bury them in the ground or you burn them. It’s called cremation, and you can keep the ashes or scatter them somewhere. That’s what we did with Nina. We kept the ashes.”
“Where are they?”
“Some of them are on our altar in a small jar, but not all of them fit, so some are in a box in my bedroom.”
“Did they burn her with a fire?”
“I don’t really know. They did it at a funeral home. I don’t really know how that works.”
“Do you have a picture of Nina?”
“Can I see it?”
“Okay, let me see it.”
“Well, it’s not on my phone, it’s on my computer. I’ll have to show you later.”
“Could you make another baby?”
“Well, we could,” I said, “but Daddy and I sort of decided we didn’t want to after Nina died.”
“Why?” he asked.
“Well, it was so hard when she died. It’s always sad when someone dies, but especially when a baby dies, because they don’t get to live their life and we never had the chance to have Nina in our lives. It was really hard for us and we were a little scared of trying again. And also we thought a lot about what was best for our family and thought maybe it was best to have only one child. It’s hard taking care of children, and we decided maybe one was best for us, but it does make us sad sometimes.”
“How do you make babies?” he asked.
“Well, mommies and daddies make them together,” I said.
“The dad creates something called sperm in his body and when the sperm meets an egg in the mom’s body, together they create a baby.”
“How does it get inside of the mom’s body?”
“I don’t really know how to explain that to you,” I said, officially wimping out.
“Well, you could if you wanted to,” he said.
“I don’t really know how,” I said. “Oh my God, it’s time to wash the shampoo out of your hair!”
“How many buckets?”
“I don’t know: five?”
How do you talk to a kid about death? And, even trickier, how do you talk to a kid about sex? My son seems perfectly capable of handling a frank conversation about death, but would he be comfortable learning about sex? He’s only six years old (as of tomorrow), after all, but maybe he would be fine with it. Maybe I’m the squeamish one and he’d be perfectly fine.
How have other parents handled these questions? It is time to get him a copy of “Where Did I Come From?” I think that’s how I learned the facts of life, but is six too soon?