“Mama, what are those turtles doing?”
It was one of those moments of truth that all parents have, where time seems to slow and we quickly page through which available option is the least horrifying. I could lie and distract: “Why I have no idea! Look a gosling!”
I could avoid the question: “What turtles? This lake has turtles?”
Or I could answer honestly because for some foolish reason we’ve decided on a general policy of addressing the tough questions in a gentle, age appropriate manner. Respond authentically without providing too much info. Basically I’m aiming for something between outright omissions of truth and a PowerPoint presentation.
And not just for inappropriate, middle of the day, right out in public turtle shenanigans. Lately I’ve been fielding a lot of questions about death: What if I stopped breathing? What if I was made of fire? What would happen if I stopped eating?
My five year old even recently drew me a picture of a “bowl of oats that were killed” (Yes, oats. No, I don’t know.) complete with x’s for eyes and tongues lolling out.
She wants to know why the cat died. Why he can’t come back.
We aren’t any religion in particular, though I grew up Catholic and my husband loosely Baptist. So we read a book by the incomparable Mr. Rogers, When a Pet Dies; beautiful and to the point. We talked about how it’s okay to be sad. How the cat was very, very sick with cancer and that sort of thing is rare and unusual. But how dying is a part of life.
I don’t think religion or lack of religion matters though, not really. Maybe the questions aren’t as difficult to answer from a place of faith, maybe comfort comes a little easier. But I think any parent feels that same twist of the gut, the ache in the heart when we have to look our child in the eyes and explain death. That no, the cat isn’t coming back. That yes, everyone dies. Yes, even me.
And so it goes for the beginnings of that unstoppable circle of life as well. I try to answer the uncomfortable questions honestly, try not to hem and haw as I explain that it is normal and natural but still not an appropriate conversation to have in Target on a busy Saturday.
As for the snapping turtles, I took a deep breath and told him the truth. They’re mating. Maybe soon there will be baby turtles. All animals do it. Yep, even people.
The response to this brave admission, this shocking revelation of truth?
There you have it. Oh, indeed.
Jill Vettel is a homeschooling mom of three in Durham, NC who sometimes gives impromptu lessons on the mating habits of snapping turtles.