We have a friend at our house. Her name is Ginger. She doesn't poop or pee on the carpet, and she doesn't bark too much, and she lets our boy talk about anything and everything he can't or won't talk to us about. Missing his friends in LA, arguing with his mom, and most especially death. He's been big on the subject lately. I can't even mention his getting bigger anymore, because in his mind that means he's growing up, which means that I'm getting older, which means I'll die someday. It sends him to tears, but at least they're more manageable now. At first discovery of that thought, he was gripped with fear and it took forever to calm him down.
This morning he woke up and climbed into bed with me. Because my hormonal self is out of whack, I've been waking up too early, and I was already awake in bed, reading The New Yorker fiction issue, nursing a sinus headache along with my coffee. He brought Ginger in with him, and snuggled up and requested that I "puppet" Ginger.
He has a million stuffed animals, but only three make it into the regular "puppet" rotation: Ginger the dog, a bear we got in Paris that he named Linky, and JimPolarBear, a dirty little polar bear that speaks with an unlikely Southern accent (ask my husband). But Ginger is Mom's domain, and he loves her dearly, even when he is so mad at me that he can't see straight. The other day, after getting really riled at how unfair I was being (no more tv, clean up your toys - you know, the usual Cruel Dictator stuff), he stopped screaming at me long enough to ask me to puppet Ginger. Somehow she got him to calm down, and even though he didn't want me in the room, I had to be, and Ginger managed to impart a little wisdom and levity into a situation that I as mom couldn't. Even when I'm mad as a hornet, Ginger manages to be unfailingly patient and kind and reasonable. I'm grateful that we've stumbled on this tool. It wasn't my idea - I wish I had been that wise - it was his, and it's something that helps us both deal with things we have a hard time talking about.
It shouldn't surprise me. I used to be in the arts as an actor, and I worked a lot with children, and it was clear to me then that they could embrace things as big as their own feelings far better when it was at an artistic remove. It gave them tools to deal with huge issues.
Like death. This morning, he was telling Ginger about death. About how, when she grows up, he'll be old and then he'll die. And I had to swallow hard, because I suddenly felt the depth of his fear about my own demise. He made me bring her downstairs, so he could play her a "dying lullaby" on his piano. It was gorgeous, and he sang it so sweetly and solemnly, and it rhymed. (Those of you who know him won't be surprised at this, but those of you who don't, well, he's kind of a musical genius. No joke. I know it sounds like I'm just a proud mom, and I am, but this is clearly his gift, and who am I not to toot his horn!) Anyway, it was so moving, and brought both Ginger and mom to tears. I gave him a big hug, and told him how much I loved his song, and this is what he said to me:
"Mom. Your breath really stinks."
But for a few minutes, I felt like we had tackled the big stuff. I felt so grateful for my past in the arts, for my ability to commit to a character, to imagine and fly. But mostly I felt grateful for my son, because being his mom is the best gig in the world.