Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Horton Hears a Who!

I was at Borders recently to pick up the latest tome that we're reading for my mom's group book club, when I saw a huge display of Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who! After hearing that it was being made into a movie, I'd been looking for the book as I have a lot of fond memories of it from childhood.

Until that day, I had only been able to find it in pop-up form. I may as well just give H a $20 bill and let him go to town with it, because I spend the two weeks after buying a pop-up book systematically throwing away torn out shreds, and finding a book that is devoid of illustrations. I bought the 'plain' version of the book immediately.

I took it home and read it to H during our pre-nap story time, knowing that he would like it if not only for his current obsession with elephants.

I know that the theme of the book is all about the value of life ('A person's a person, no matter how small'). But it also talks about dying and trying to protect those that are more vulnerable that us. I'm not surprised that I didn't remember, or pick up on this when my Great-Aunt Stella was reading it to me at the tender age of 5, but it made me pause.

How do we talk to our kids about death? I know that for my mom, that time came when I was in the first grade, and the very same aunt who'd recited the rhymes of Mr. Geisel to me died. My mom was horrified when I candidly asked her, while preparing for the funeral, if we could bury Aunt Stella in the back yard so that if we missed her too much, we could just dig her up and look at her. She immediately called her best friend who reminded her that I did not understand the glamorous parts of death. You know; decomposition, rigor mortis, etc.

My mom explained to me that Aunt Stella would have to always live in my head and my heart, because we don't look at the person's body anymore after they're buried. She left it at that, but I'm convinced that the vague explanation is why I quickly developed a morbid curiosity for anything that it seemed we weren't supposed to know about. Kind of like when she explained conception by saying that a mom and dad just really love each other and God makes a baby come...hmmmm...interesting.

How much information is too much, and how much is just enough to leave kids' imaginations to come to their own conclusion? My friend Alex recently had to go through this after losing her Aunt and facing a plethora of questions from her very inquisitive four year-old. She seems to have handled 'the death talk' really well, but it's just so tricky. Hopefully I'll be able to just avoid the topic for a long time.

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