Last night I made my son two reckless promises: That he would not die until he is a hundred years old, and that when he did, I'd still be with him.
We were listening to a Classical Kids CD called Mr. Bach Comes to Call, in which the ghost of Johann S. appears to a little girl who is begrudgingly practicing the piano. She is soon won over by the jolly old man and his tales of a busy, happy, music-filled life. At the end of the disc Bach mentions a composition that he was unable to finish, because "everyone has to die sometime."
We've played this CD probably a hundred times, but last night Opie stopped to think about that line. His face grew fearful. His voice quivered as he asked if that meant he would die. "Yes," I told him, but not for a very very very long time, when he was a very very very old man. "How old?" he pressed, and that's when I told him a hundred years (the biggest number I thought he could grasp--as it turns out, he didn't, and I had to count almost all the way from 3 to 100 to show just how far that was).
Still he wasn't satisfied, and his voice continued to teeter on the brink of tears. "But when I die, you won't be there."
"I will," I said, tears sliding down my own cheeks. "I will always be with you." Because I will, I thought. In Heaven, in memory, in some little sliver of DNA, one way or another. Unwilling and unable to explain all that, I defaulted to the simple lie. And then I perpetuated it by promising that Daddy would be there too, and Jo, and even our dog.
I know I'll break a lot of the promises I make my children, intentionally and not. I just wasn't quite prepared to discuss one of the universe's greatest unknowns right there in the dark, at 9 p.m. after a full day of solo parenting. (And you better believe I was the one who stayed awake staring at the ceiling when it was my turn to go to bed.)