Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Finding the Right Answers

She's growing up too fast for me
And asking lots of questions
Some I know the answers to
And some I'm looking for suggestions

                                  --Jimmy Buffett, Delaney Talks to Statues

This pretty much sums up how I am feeling with Gwendolyn right now.  She is a very bright, curious, 4 year old girl so I know to expect lots of questions, but man, I just I don't know how to give age-appropriate answers sometimes.  Adding to the questions (and my lack of good answers) is the social issues of her asking these questions VERY loudly and sometimes pointing.  I don't want her to stop asking questions, but I don't want her to hurt other people.

I have handled many questions about people looking different than us: Why is that person bigger than us? Smaller than us? Have purple hair? Have so many stamps (tattoos)? Wearing a patch/ brace/ cast/ wheelchair?  Last weekend, she asked very loudly "Why are those women all covered up?" (they were wearing burqas, and you could only (barely) see their eyes).  As Keary and I were trying to answer her and were stumbling over our answers as we tried to explain that some people of other cultures and religions just dress differently, she came up with many of her own reasons that she loudly proclaimed.  I'm not even sure how to explain culture or religion to a 4 year old, they seem like rather broad concepts.

I don't want her to stop asking the questions, though it would be mighty fine by me if she would learn to use an indoor voice.  It would be nice if I could stop stumbling over my answers.  Ultimately, I want her to continue to be curious and ask questions.  And even moreso, I want her to be understanding that everyone doesn't look/ sound/ communicate/ etc the same and be accepting of them.

The question I am having the most problem providing an appropriate answer is one she has asked multiple times over the past year:  Where is her Grandma Sue? Keary's mom, Sue, died nine months before Gwendolyn was born so she exists only in pictures for her.

I have tried explaining that she died/ she is dead, and she is just not grasping what that is.  Honestly, with as much death as there is in Disney movies, I would have thought she had a better hold on the concept of death.  We have checked out books at the library that try to explain death, but those haven't helped either.

Even though Keary's and his family were not religious and against my better judgement, I tried to explain that she died and went to heaven. I hesitated to explain it that way only because I know how confusing it can be to tell a child that someone is somewhere they can't go and that the person can't come back to see them.  Sure enough, as soon as I explained it that way she asked "Well, can we go there sometime."  I said "It isn't really a place you can just go.  You have to die to go there and then you can't come back.  It isn't like Florida or Memphis."  That answer was not received well either.  

We have even tried telling her bones are in the cemetery.  That sounds awful.  I still don't know that she "gets it".  Keary is grasping at straws and has considered taking her where Sue is buried, that is over an hour away in the middle of nowhere though.  And I am not sure even then everything will click for her.

I don't remember figuring out the concept of death, but I am starting to think that it has to be one of those developmental milestones like object permanence and Gwendolyn just isn't old enough yet.  Or maybe I am just failing at coming up with the right answer for her and that is my excuse.  I'm open to suggestions.

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