By Lillian Michelle
“But what if I were a mouse?” I have gotten questions like this one a lot lately from my four-year-old. What he means is, “Would you still love me?” Today, Quinn asked me this from the backseat as we were on our way to the beach. Yesterday, he asked if I would still love him if he were a plant.
My answer is basically the same every time: I say “yes” and then tell him how I would take care of him if he were a mouse or a plant or a house or whatever form he has concocted that particular day.
“Yes, Buddy. I would still love you if you were a mouse. I would buy you a fancy cage with an exercise wheel. I would feed you stinky cheese twice a day and make sure you had fluffy shavings to snuggle into. I would read you a story every night then pat your tiny, furry head with the tip of my finger before you went to sleep.”
This seemed to be a satisfactory response. He quieted down and went back to coloring. He and his sister have both had a hard time lately. Their daddy and I have recently separated, and they are struggling a lot. This was our first big trip on our own and I know they could feel the difference.
Kids are smart. They are smarter than we give them credit for a lot of times, but they are also sensitive and need reassurance regularly. Adults are probably the same way if I’m truly honest. I need a lot of reassurance as of late, too.
There are a million things to work out right now but making sure the kids are ok is top priority. How would you ever know? I don’t think you can. I am doing my best but his questions make me feel that something is missing from his love tank.
We were on the road for only about an hour more before we finally made it to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. The hotel would not be ready to check us in for another few hours so we decided to visit the aquarium.
Zoos, aquariums, and the like are always fascinating for me. I am amazed by how interconnected humans are to other species sharing our planet. While we were there, we watched the sharks be fed, saw snakes and all kinds of underwater oddities, touched stingrays, crabs and other shellfish but one of the highlights of our visit was viewing the seahorses. They never fail to leave me enamored by their beauty and grace. I could stare at them for hours.
An older gentleman stood at the exhibit rattling off facts for visitors. He said, “Did you know that seahorses are unique to most other species in that they mate for life?” “Mommy? What does that mean? Mate for life,” Elizabeth asked. “It means that two seahorses will become partners, make babies, and stay together until they are all done living.” Quinn listened intently but did not say a word.
After we were done exploring the aquarium, we got ice cream and then headed to the hotel to check in and rest before dinner. I knew it was coming and waited impatiently. I knew he would ask. It took the rest of the day and up until bedtime, but Quinn finally popped out with his question. “Mommy? Are seahorses and humans the same?” I responded, “What do you mean, Buddy?” Of course, I already knew exactly what he meant but wanted him to elaborate for his own sake. “Don’t humans meet for life?” “You mean mate for life?” “Yes. Don’t humans ever mate for life? How come you and Daddy don’t mate for life?”
When I tell you this was one of the hardest topics I have ever had to address, I mean it. It. Was. Hard. There he was, sitting there in his bed with his eyes wide open and his heart breaking in front of me. He was desperate to understand why seahorses could do something that his mommy and daddy could not.
Even though I anticipated his question, it was still gut wrenching to answer. “Sweet Pea, sometimes grownups fall out of love for each other. They start out that way but over time, they become unhappy. They fight a lot and it gets hard to live together. Do you remember that daddy and I would fuss with each other?” He nodded. “Why don’t you just sit in time out, Mommy? Like me and Elizabeth do when we fuss?” he asked.
“It’s different for grownups, Buddy. Sometimes, we have to make hard decisions like we did about living in different places. It’s difficult for everyone and we are all feeling sad. We are going to be ok, though. You and Elizabeth and Daddy and I are all going to be ok. Daddy and I love you and your sister more than anything in the world and that is one thing that will never, ever change. We are all going to be ok. I promise!”
“When you get happy again, will we all live together again?” “No, Lovebug. We won’t be living all together again but we will always be your parents and we will always love you more than you know.” “Even if I were a fish?” He replied. “Especially if you were a fish! I’d buy you the nicest tank and feed you the flakiest fish flakes. I’d buy you a little castle to put in the tank for you to play in and add lots of plants to swim through. Every night I’d read you a story and then pucker my lips at the glass just like you would do with your squishy fish face.”
His eyes were closed as he puckered his lips while he imagined the scene I had described then he settled into his pillow and soon fell off to sleep. I stepped just outside the hotel room for some beach air after they were both settled in and reflected on the day.
It was a long one. We rose early, traveled a good distance, stopped several times, and we were all exhausted. We made memories together and added value to the new depiction of our life stories. It was a good day.