Tiny Pants and I were sitting at the computer, which was placed an an antique flip-top desk. He pushed down on the folding desktop — something he knows he is not supposed to do — and I said something like, "Do you know how mad Mama would be if you break this desk?"
"You would never forgive me," he answered.
"There is nothing you could ever do that Mama would never forgive. Never." I replied. I was glad of this conversation, because I wanted him to always remember that he can depend on my love, even when he's a teenager, even when he does bad things. It often seems likely that of my two children, Tiny might be more likely to cause some major havoc someday.
"There's somebody I will never forgive," he answered. I still didn't realize that the conversation was bigger than just breaking rules and unconditional love.
"Who?" I asked, still thinking about what a good job I was doing talking about love and forgiveness.
And then I realized I wasn't doing that good of a job at all.
Last month one of Big Pant's classmates died from complications due to asthma. I tended to assume Tiny Pants wasn't that close to the child, so didn't have as much grief. I forgot that the two-and-half-year age gap between my sons left my youngest vulnerable. I had focused primarily on the loss his older brother had experienced. Tiny may not have known this child as well, but he was still wrecked by it.
"I know, Honey," I said, and hugged him. I thought it was over. It wasn't.
Big Pants had fallen and bruised his knee earlier that day and was, in my opinion, milking it to avoid doing homework and going to bed on time. Big Pants had had a hip injury in the fall resulting in a hospital stay, and I made some comment about how if he kept having problems with his joints we'd have to go back to the hospital for some tests. This was partially a scare tactic (and a bad one) to get him to go to bed, but also voiced some real concern. The doctor had said that continued joint pain might be a sign of rheumatoid arthritis, and I was just enough of a hypochondriac to worry, even though I knew the cause of this particular injury.
At bedtime Tiny Pants started to cry. "I don't want Big Pants to go to the hospital," he said.
At that moment I knew that this little boy's head was full of fear and death and mourning, even though he acted fine during the day and only complained about things like putting his plate in the dishwasher. Our not talking about his grief and fear had not made them go away.
Sometimes all we can do is hold our children when they cry. Sometimes we utter reassurances that we know we can't sustain, but we have to say something.
Today, this week, I will try to be sensitive to the fact that sometimes there is a lot more going on under the surface than I realize, that acting normal doesn't mean that grief has passed. Why should I expect a six year old to mourn any less than an adult? My hope that he had magically healed hadn't made it so.