We took a walk by the river. It was a gorgeous afternoon. Everything was moving and swaying and swimming with life. Trees and birds. Bugs and flowers.
Everything except for this huge jellyfish washed up on the shore.
It was amazing. Like some bizarre intricate jelly creature from another planet. Lying splat on the ground like a translucent cow pat. Or a huge phlegm someone coughed up. (Sorry)
Now Callum is quite familiar with dead things. Dead bugs. Dead leaves. Dead mice. Simba’s dad who died in The Lion King. Nemo’s mum who died when he was still an egg. Usually he’s quite indifferent to the concept of “death”, until today.
What’s this jellyfish doing here? Why isn’t it moving? Is he dead? Like Simba’s dad? Why is he dead? Will he wake up? What if a bird comes and eats him? Why doesn’t he just swim away? Can we pick him up?
I’ve never been so stuck for words. Most of the time, I just make up stuff. Like when we’re driving through the SUBURBS and Callum will ask “Mum!! Whoa! Why are these houses here?? Did you see that? Trees! What are they doing here?!?!” I make up long tales about dinosaurs with rubber boots and gardening hats who stomp around the park planting little trees that grow into big trees.
However, we don’t make up stuff about death, or try to shield him from it. And fortunately he’s never had to face the reality of losing someone close to him.
We explain it in a very matter-of-fact way.
“The ant’s body stopped working.”
“Leaves turn brown, die and turn into compost that helps the tree make new leaves.”
“The jellyfish probably got washed up onto the beach and got stuck. Jellyfish need water to make their bodies work. So he probably got really thirsty, fell sick and died.”
And at that moment I felt my damn eyes starting to prickle. I had to hold back a tear!! I had images of a sad jellyfish wife and little, fatherless jellyfish kids. I felt SO stupid. Yet, I was emotionally locked into this moment with my son over this jellyfish. He looked so little as he squatted on the beach. Arms folded over his knees. Little sad pout.
I asked him, “Do you want to ask me anything else?”
“Ok. What would you like to ask me?”
“Um. Can I have an ice cream?”
Phew. I don’t think I’m ready for this part of parenting yet. Teaching someone else about LIFE. Death. Puberty. Sex. Women. Credit cards. Religion. And, why too much ice cream will make you sick.
So just like that, we were skipping back to the car, back to our home, back to showers, dinner, stories and bedtime. And life continues.