Parenting is an odd mix of pushing your kids to grow up while at the same time trying to keep them young and innocent. Much of childhood, and it seems the entirety of the teen years, pits the child against the parent as they take opposite sides of this battle. They want the ability to stay up late and go out alone while not helping around the house and coasting through school; while we want them to work hard and help out while staying home safe and sound.
But sometimes outside forces tip the balance, and before you know it they’ve taken a few steps forward. Steps you wish hadn’t been necessary.
A week ago today a friend died. He was very close—And even though he was no relation, the kids all called him Uncle Rob. He was that family friend who acts responsible, if a little funny, around adults, but hams it up for the kids every chance he got. They adored him.
And last Monday night, at dinner, when we told all four of them the bad news of his passing, the hysterics were instant. As only kids are capable of, the rest of the week they handled their grief easily.
Then, Thursday night we took them all to the viewing. We had taken the time to explain what a viewing was, and assured each of them that they wouldn’t have to see the body. In fact, there was a special room set up for all the kids to hang out in. And for most of the night that’s what they did.
But gradually, one by one, they each slowly walked into the viewing room. And each slowly walked up to the casket and said their goodbyes before backing away and dissolving into tears.
I was a little surprised when the 13-year-old did it, but after all she is a teenager as is always trying to prove to us and to herself how grown up she is. I was a little more surprised when the 11-year-old took his turn—he’s very mildly autistic and just about any conversation that involves emotion embarrasses him. Once those two had said their goodbyes, I knew the 8-year-old was next, and she would never let anyone outdo her in anything.
But I have to admit being both shocked and apprehensive as my little 6-year-old took slow cautious steps, and peeked over the edge of the casket. The majority of my head, and every bit of my heart wanted to dash forward and shield him from it all. 6-years-old is just too soon to have to understand death. But the part of my head that held me back thought that at least this way he was facing death on his own terms. If I stopped him here who knows how he would deal with it in the future.
But my little trooper quietly spoke his mind to his Uncle Rob, and when he’d had enough he turned away and collapsed, crying into his mother’s arms.
About 15 minutes later I saw him go up to Uncle Rob’s 17-year-old son and offer his condolences.
I guess they’re going to grow up, no matter what we do to stop it.