THE BLACK BOX
My stepdad died recently, my daughter’s “Papa.” He’d been in declining health for awhile, but I’d done minimal prepping for my daughter. I didn’t know how she would react to him dying.
Kids are weird about death. When my daughter was little, our two cats were already old. India, the fat black one, was the first to die. When I told my daughter, she stated flatly, “But she’s my friend.” That really made me lose my shit and I started sobbing. My daughter stared, seemingly embarrassed for me. She really wasn’t very upset.
But weeks later, out of the blue she asked me if India was in a museum. I reminded her that no, India was dead. She explained that dinosaurs were dead and they were in museums. That’s kid logic for you. Now I have a picture in my head of India under a bell jar as a specimen of “Cat” in some weird museum. She’s a less-than-ideal physical reference for the species.
So apparently, unbeknownst to me, she’d been mulling death over in her head for a few weeks.
Our other cat Levi died one night and my daughter found his body half sticking out of a cardboard box in the living room. He always liked boxes. She seemed to shrug that one off too. It was like, “Huh! A stiff, dead cat. Weird!”
But that was all when she was little. Now she’s eight and this was her grandfather. So when I told her, she was sad. She gave me a big hug. She lingered, then said “Can I have my electronic time?” This is a girl who sometimes cries at not having dessert. No crying, no carrying on. It’s times like this that kids seem like sociopaths. With all the fake crying, pretending to care about the rules and then ignoring them, what’s the difference between them and sociopaths?
But at the wake, she was affected I think. She got to see her Papa one more time and I think being there helped to make it all a little more real. She didn’t break down and cry, but kids are a black box sometimes. Who knows what they’re thinking or feeling?
And the other day, her friend accidentally knocked over her Sea-Monkeys. She wailed, she pleaded for them to be saved. It was all out of proportion. It’s all right there under the surface somewhere.
One of the hard things about being a parent is you’re never sure what’s getting through, what’s making a difference. Who knows what’s in the black box right?