I am a huge fan of our walks to and from school. I have always been in love with the idea, to the point of romanticizing it, because I was always a bus kid. Or, a be-ready-just-late-enough-that-mom-has-to-drive-you-kid if we’re being honest. But I love being outside in the fresh air without the distraction of the radio and lots of fuel for conversation. Some of my best conversations with my son happen on our walks. For me, it’s probably equal to some families’ love of dinner times (which are just too chaotic at my house most nights!). Of course, my mind might change once winter hits and we’re trudging in two feet of snow, but for now while the weather is crisp and cool, it’s one of my favourite parts of the day.
This morning was no different. “Mom,” my son said out of the blue, “I know what happens when I die.” This has been a subject of worry for him for almost a year now. If he stays up too late, or has too stressful of a day, or his brain doesn’t get the exercise it needs, his default fear is “I don’t wanna die.” We’re not religious, so we talk about it as matter-of-factly as possible with a 3 year old. Since he’s really interested in science, I even told him about the carbon cycle one day, and explained how when I die, I want to be cremated and “become” a tree. We’ve disscussed how different religions have different beliefs, and since no one knows exactly what happens we can all choose to believe what makes us feel better. It’s a touchy subject because of his asynchronous development. He is able to fully understand death intellectually, but he doesn’t have the life experience and maturity to really come to grips with it. Most of us adults have a difficult time with it, and childhood is supposed to be a time of innocence.
So I was curious to hear what his answer would be.
“When I die, I’ll come back as someone new. I’ll start at a baby again, and then grow up all over again,” he said casually, focusing on crunching as many leaves under his boots as possible.
“Ah. So you believe in reincarnation?”
“Yeah, but I won’t be a boy anymore. Maybe I’ll be a girl next time. Or maybe, I’ll be your daddy and you can be my baby instead.”
“So we’ll still know each other?”
“Yup. But we’ll be different people.”
I asked him if it made him feel better about death. He answered in the affirmative, and I asked how he came up with the idea, wondering if he’d heard about it at school or from a friend since it’s been a long time since we spoke about reincarnation, and we have never spoke about it in detail. “Well, I just thought of it when I was in my science lab,” he explained. His science lab, this morning anyway, was his bedroom. He had his pillows lined up across the floor as his particle accelerator and spent the morning before school looking for element 119, which he calls Mosyium. And, apparently, pondering life after death.
We moved on from the subject, playing with seeing our breath and examining the frozen dew on the ground. He skipped off to school happily to go play with his friends, and I had the rest of my walk back home to ponder how insightful and awesome kids are. It’s amazing what they teach us when we take the time to listen. No matter what our own beliefs, it’s fascinating to see our kids shape their own, something that I think is so important. If we spend too much time telling our kids what to think instead of how to think, we deprive them of a critical skill necessary for adulthood. It might take them a while, and they will change their minds multiple times as they grow, but it’s one of the magical parts of parenthood. All we have to do is share our beliefs, and offer some alternatives if we can, and then step back and be ready to listen when they’re ready.