I love reading, but lately my life has gotten very busy. Reading time is has become a luxury that I just cannot afford at the moment… which has been really sad. In order to get in all those books I want to read, I listen to audiobooks in the car.
I learned last year, that I have to be very selective about the books I choose. At first, I did not think that my kids were listening. How could they be when I can barely hear the audiobook over their screams of joy and laughter or bickering (since it seems that is the only two modes they have when traveling in the car together). Yet, one day, my daughter shocked me by asking me to rewind the CD to her favorite part. I was shocked. She had a favorite part? She was paying attention to the audiobook? Now, this story does not seem all that shocking… unless I tell you I was listening to The Lovely Bones, and the favorite part she mentioned is when the little girl when as she put it “when the little girl gets her hat stuffed in her mouth.” Needless to say, I was horrified and decided not to listen to that one in the car when the kids were with me.
After that moment, I have been very cautious with the audiobooks I select to listen to in the car. Selections have included Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, and a good bit of non-fiction. Recently, I selected Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World. We love cats, and I thought it would be a safe read. No chance for violence, sex scenes, or other inappropriate material, right? My daughter was instantly in love with Dewey and the story and remembered that she had gotten a book from the library about him. To my surprise, my son even requested to listen to this one. So, it was a hit.
Yet, children’s books often end before the story gets tough.
As Dewey’s story moved from his life as a kitten to his life as a geriatric cat… my daughter started getting worried about him. She was in the car with me when they talked about his gastro-intestinal issues and asked me “Is he going to die, mom?” At the time, I was relieved to say “Well, there are still two discs left and he is about 7 years old. I think he lives until 18, so he should be fine for now.” Today, as my son rode with me to lunch with my in-laws, Dewey was put to sleep. I tried to change over to the radio, but my son wanted to know what would happen to Dewey. It was a somber ride, but it was a ride I was happy to be sharing with my son and not my daughter.
Lunch began with my kids writing their Christmas lists at their grandparents request. My daughter astounded us with her requests for a refrigerator, computer, and ipad. She even showed her newfound attitude that makes me a bit crazy. My husband told her to drop her attitude and in return she told him to drop his. I have a hard time when my kids are rude… to anybody. It especially irks me when it is in response to an adult trying to discipline them. Luckily, lunch progressed with very little of this “teenage” attitude from that point on. As we ate, I made the mistake of revealing that my son was a bit down because the cat in the book we were listening to had to be put to sleep. My daughter instantly connected the dots and her face fell. She seemed to be dealing OK, until we went to the bathroom. She broke into tears as we were about to head back to the table. She wanted to go outside and so we went outside and sat in the sun and had this conversation.
The Girl: Why? Why did they have to put Dewey to sleep?
Me: Well, he was old and he had cancer. He was in a lot of pain.
The Girl: But I wanted to go see him.
Me: Well, honey… he died before the book was written. It was a while ago. You were only two.
The Girl: Then why did you not take me to see him then?
Me: Well, I did not know about him then. He lived in Iowa. You were 2.
The Girl: Why did he get cancer? He was only 18 years old?
Me: Well, 18 years old is pretty old for a cat. Our bodies are not meant to live forever and so as we age things don’t work properly.
The Girl: [tears still streaming down her face] But sometimes kids get it, right? Why can’t we just cure it?
Me: Well, that is a big question and one that lots of people ask. We just don’t know why it happens to some people or animals when they are young and why it happens to more people/animals when they are old. We don’t know enough about cancer to cure it for everyone.
The Girl: Some people can still live when they get cancer.
Me: Yeah, some people can and they recover. Unfortunately, not everyone can make it through. There are so many types of Cancer and it can affect any of our parts. Depending on the part it is in and what type of cancer it is… it lead to different results. Sometimes we have the right stuff to deal with it and sometimes we don’t.
The Girl: I don’t like Cancer.
Me: Me either. That is why we need to be nice to everyone and try to make sure we treat everyone well. Life is fragile and we don’t want to make sure everyone has a good life however long it is.
The Girl: I don’t see why that matters. It doesn’t matter if I am nice to my brother.
Me: It does matter. You never know what will happen tomorrow. It is best to make sure people have good memories when you can.
The Girl: The Boy is fine, though?
Me: I think so.
The Girl: So is The Dog and The Cats?
Me: Yes, for now. Our dog is getting old.
The Girl: We should be nice to him then?
Me: Yeah, we should.
The Girl: You should tell that to Dad. He yells at him a lot.
Me: We can remind him. Can we go back now? I do need to finish my lunch.
The Girl: OK.
She was still a bit weepy. It is amazing to see what a huge heart my daughter has… especially for animals and people. At age 7, she can have a bit of a feisty attitude. Sometimes, her attitude drives me nuts, but then she shows how big her heart is and I can’t help but be amazed and proud to have such a wonderful daughter.
Looking back, I do wonder was it the right choice of book to share with her? I guess, I will have to wait and see. These are the times where I wish there was a guidebook to parenting. So far, I have found just like many parenting issues, everyone has a different opinion. I guess at this moment, I am thinking the question is not wether it was OK to expose her to the book, but rather how we deal with her questions and her inquiries. Cancer and death are a part of life, and I am not sure if I would be doing her a favor by sheltering her from these things. Our loved ones are getting older and I am not sure what life will throw at us…at her. Hopefully, she will be able to look back at Dewey and our conversation and it will make her stronger and more sensitive to the situations she faces.