Bedtime at my house has become a game of 20 questions. Casual, silly inquiries, yes, always. But lately, my kids have been putting my parenting, logic, and beliefs to the test. They’ve been challenging my heart and soul. Asking me to think about things that are easier to brush aside and not think about.
As I prepared to escape on a trip with college friends recently, my daughter cried and asked, “What if your plane crashes Mommy, and I never see you again?” Definitely NOT what I want to think about as I’m packing my suitcase and preparing to board a plane, but a valid and scary question for a 5-year-old.
My oldest son has been more introspective, telling me he can’t fall asleep, that he just doesn’t feel right. He can’t stop thinking. “About what?” I ask. “What life is all about. What it all means. What is going to happen to me? I don’t want to grow up. I don’t want to leave you,” he says.
And, not to be out-done, after tickles, books, and cuddles my middle child asks, “Mom, what if life is just all a dream? None of it is real? What if God is dreaming, and he wakes up and it all goes away?”
The next night, he clings to my neck, wrapping his arms around me and pulling me close. I can hear his breathing quicken and stutter as he tries not to cry. He finally releases a soft, quivering, “Mom, it’s just that what if I die before you? How will I ever find you? I don’t want to ever be without you.”
Ugh. Punch to the gut. I lose my breath and squeeze him. I don’t have real, proven, fact-based answers to these questions. I have my faith. My beliefs. And my hopes for my children. That is all, yet it is everything.
I understand the questions and enormity of the unknown. Their emotions and fears are real to me, too. Not only do I remember feeling the same way when I was young, harboring similar doubts and wonder, but now as a mother I struggle with those questions from a different perspective and degree of love and worry.
Their sense of melancholy and dread for us to be separated is mine too, but I am no longer afraid of death. How death may come or the thought of surviving my children terrifies me. But my death, not at all.
Hoping I can spare them tears and anxiety, I try to share my view with my littles. I tell them if I died, their Daddy will love them and raise them. That they are so lucky to have aunts and uncles, grandparents, and family friends who would do anything for them. I explain that I will always love them no matter where I may be or whether they can see me. They will know I am with them, watching over them. They will feel my love for them.
They will have our memories, our stories, and photographs. They will carry with them all of the lessons I have tried to instill in them and remember that all I ever wanted was for them to be the best they could be: kind, giving, grateful, and individuals who embraced who they are with a zest for living. To leap into new experiences. To fail with grace. Look for the positive and build upon it. To learn. And love. To have and show empathy. To shine their lights and make me proud. No matter what, my spirit, my essence, will always be with them.
I tell them I believe that our souls are destined to be together and no matter what may happen to us and whatever may come next, we will always find each other. We are forever family.
I try to impress upon them that there is no point in worrying about dying or growing up. God has a plan for us, and His gift is today. We need to live every day like it is the only day we’ve got. Worrying about what may come isn’t going to change what does happen; it will only make us miserable and prevent us from ever experiencing joy. We can’t focus on what may happen tomorrow, next year, or in 20 years. We can make the best choices for today, work hard, treat others well, and have a blast while doing it. Be grateful for each and every day and experience we are granted.
As to whether this is all just a dream, I have no idea. Maybe it is all one marvelous fantasy being conjured up in the mind of a creative, magical being. Maybe there are millions upon millions of dreams intersecting and playing out thrilling, hilarious, heartrending, tedious, divine storylines all at once. Maybe the real life is what happens next, and this is just a trial-run. Maybe we come back and take on a new part in this never-ending dramedy. Whatever the case may be, and whatever may happen next, all we can do is enjoy the ride. Celebrate our role in this topsy-turvy trip or dream, experience or life, whatever it is.
Clearly, I don’t have definitive answers to my poignant bedtime sessions. I can share the lessons I’ve learned from years of worry and fear, with hope of sparking a new perspective. I love that my children feel so intensely. That they care. I hope that they are able to channel those emotions into powerful actions. Choices to live fully. Love deeply. Stop worrying about what may come and instead focus on how miraculous the now is.