but loudly

11 Oct

Summer 2013 168My daughter pulls her purple backpack out of the car and slams the door – not hard – just enough to get the job done, but loudly. It’s four minutes before First Bell, and we fall into step with two or three other families streaming through the school gates onto the playground.

“Do you have your water bottle?” I ask her.

“Yeah. Mom, why do people hang themselves?”

Children and parents, nannies and babysitters, older sisters, younger brothers, toddlers and strollers and kids, and kids, and kids stream all around us.

I must have slowed down, because she tilts her head in that anxious, impatient way she has, to let me know that I’m embarrassing her.

“Well, that’s an interesting question,” I say, finally. “Where did that come from? Did someone hang themselves… in a story?”

“My friend’s book.”

“Oh. I see.” She waits expectantly, standing next to me now at the edge of the playground, where we are no longer in danger of obstructing someone’s path. Her eyes and face are wholly open to what I’ll say next.

Too open? Am I up to the task? You might think that, given my family history, I have a practiced answer for this question. I have nothing. I have to make it up on the spot.

Just like most people.

“Sometimes, when people are really, really, really sad … for a really, really, really long time … and they feel like they’ll never stop being sad … they might choose to hang themselves.” Or shoot themselves. Or take too many pills and hide in the underbrush next to a creek. “They might, but it’s a bad choice.”

When I begin, she is turned completely towards me, eager to hear, but at some point while I am speaking, she drops her backpack at my feet and runs over to hug her friend. I can see her now, spinning, her head tipped back, hair flying. “Come on!” she says now, but not to me. She jumps down from the spinning wheel, tagging her friend on the shoulder.

I don’t know quite when she leaves or how, how much she hears, how much she wants to know. She may simply want to know if hanging makes a person die. It’s the kind of thing she gets curious about – what makes a person die – so it may have been that. I don’t know.

“Come ON!” she says again, more of a command than a request this time. Then she playfully darts away, daring her friend. The chase begins. The bell rings. Her backpack is retrieved. She stops for one brief second, hugs me quickly, runs away again.

“Goodbye, sweetheart. I love you!” I call after her.

She and her friends run together to the fourth grade door, tagging each other every three paces or so, giggling and shouting the whole way.

I say to myself, as I return to my car, as I pull into traffic, as the songs on the radio change and change again, what I wanted to say to her but did not (and still I don’t know which answer was more right):

Why do people hang themselves? I have guesses, Honey – only those – because the truth is, I just don’t know.

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8 Responses to “but loudly”

  1. Melisa October 11, 2013 at 7:32 am #

    Ugh, we adults bring so much life experience to the table when the young ones ask us questions and it’s so hard to know how flippantly they’re asking or how much info they really want. I’m guessing you’ll get a follow-up when you least expect it.

    Also, I wish I had you around more often to explain things I want to know about. 🙂

    • RoiAnn October 11, 2013 at 12:59 pm #

      Thank you, Melisa. Yes, I wish I had you around to explain things to me, too! 🙂 And life experience? I have to say that having a blog takes the pressure off sometimes in the moment, because the voices who don’t make it out in the moment can always find space here if they need it. xo

  2. Rev. Katie October 11, 2013 at 12:29 pm #

    What courage it took to not shy away from the question! In a moment like this, we think on our feet and can’t think through every aspect of what we are saying.For any of us talking about this with our kids, it is helpful if we can remember not to say suicide is “bad” or a “bad choice.” When we do this, then we are teaching them stigma, to deem a person who dies by suicide as bad or that they choose their illness and death from their illness. My son and I have talked about this over the years, he is 9 now. I tell him that suicide is something we try to stop from happening, just like any other illness with a risk of death, but sometimes the illness is so bad that the person dies. We have talked about what illness in the brain is like, since I have bipolar. He knows that mental illness makes your brain do things you do not always choose, just like cancer makes cells in your body do things you don’t choose. He understands that if we would not judge anyone who dies from any other illness as “bad,” we would not do that for people with mental illness as well. Tough thing to talk about though!

    • RoiAnn October 11, 2013 at 12:58 pm #

      Thank you. That’s the part of my response I cringed about as I played it and re-played it later in my head – so thank you for some MUCH better language. I’ve no doubt this kind of thing will come up again, even if this time around it was only a passing curiosity. I really appreciate your taking the time to share.

  3. joy October 11, 2013 at 3:39 pm #

    It’s so rarely simple.

  4. debweeks October 11, 2013 at 7:22 pm #

    Suicide is the logical choice when the pain of life is significantly larger than your ability to deal with pain.

    While this explanation helps me to better understand why someone would choose suicide, I’m not sure a young child can grasp a pain so deep that someone would choose to hang themselves, overdose, or use any other means of taking their own life. At the same time, these are important conversations to have with our children as they get older and has opened my eyes to the importance of doing what I can to provide my children with the tools they need to handle pain in their lives.

    • RoiAnn October 14, 2013 at 9:57 am #

      Yes, providing them with the tools, or helping them to discover the tools – yet without tipping them into the pit of too-much-feeling, too-much-awareness – this is always the challenge for me. And knowing when (at what age) to have the hardest conversations, or when to come back around to “finish” the conversations we begin and then abandon, or how far to take those conversations? All that, too. Whoever said parenting isn’t for the faint of heart was spot-on.

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