Questions (part 2)

Having covered the topic of homelessness ad naseum for the past few weeks, I figured my son was taking a break from the difficult questions.  Sure, he still wanted to know exactly how deep into the earth is the hot lava and whether anyone has ever dug that far, but questions like those felt like softballs.

Sometimes in the afternoon, we go for a long walk.  His brother likes to stay home with the au pair because, hey, it means he gets all the toys to himself.  So, Zachary, Lilah and I head out with the double stroller.  Keep to yourself your opinions about my letting an almost-five-year-old ride in the stroller.  It is late in the day, he could use some down time, and I want to get some real exercise, rather than stopping every 72 seconds to remind him to keep walking.

We were on our usual route, but I crossed over to the other side of the street to keep the baby in the shade.  Our neighborhood, while modest by West L.A. standards, is for the most part well kept-up.  There are a few more impressive houses (I hear Tori Spelling lives in one), and there are definitely a few that have seen better days.  We pass one crumbling house, such as exists in every neighborhood, with paint peeling and overgrown grass browning in the yard.  Piled high all around it are bags and bags of rubbish, all neatly tied away in plastic grocery bags.  They are along every side of the house, stacked several feet high, even blocking a couple of the exits.

We have stumbled upon the home of the neighborhood schizophrenic.

I have seen her about, rummaging through people’s bins and making off with their recycling.  A friend told me she cannot stop herself; she feels some compulsion to take trash home with her.  She is a harmless embodiment of the “one man’s trash” maxim.

“Look, Mommy.  Look at all that trash!” Zachary says.  Lilah, as usual, kicks her feet and smiles.

“I see, baby.  That’s a lot of trash, huh?”

Predictably, he asks me, “Why do they keep all that trash?”

Fuuuuuck.  We just finished with homelessness.  Now, we’re on to the related topic of mental illness?  But, of all the things I have done as a parent, the only one I have done right is be honest.  I don’t tell more than I have to, but I always, always answer him truthfully.  He knows that and relies upon it, and I will not betray that trust.

“OK.  You know how sometimes people get sick in their bodies?  You know, like when you have a stomachache?”  I look down and see that sandy head nodding.  “Well, sometimes people get sick inside their brains, too.  And the lady who lives there is sick inside her brain, so her brain tells her that she needs to collect lots and lots of garbage and keep it at her house.”

“That doesn’t seem reasonable,” he replies, which is kind of the point here.

“Well, because she is sick inside her head, she isn’t reasonable,” I reply.  “That’s exactly it.”  Now, I know my little dude, and I know there is a very good chance he is sitting there in that stroller trying to figure out if maybe he is likely to get sick inside his head.  Assessing the likelihood that he will end up wandering the neighborhood, rummaging through recycling bins.  “But don’t worry.  Mommy and Daddy are too old to get schizophrenia.  And you are too young,” I assure him.  Strictly, this is untrue, but the onset is usually in the twenties, and for him that is far, far too old to imagine ever being.

I consider it wise to avoid mentioning that my aunt had schizophrenia so severe that I spent much of my tween years fearing I would become like the woman who terrified and disgusted me.   I also leave out the part about schizophrenia running in families.  There is truth and then there is too much information.

11 responses to “Questions (part 2)

  1. I have three comments:

    1.) Would someone actually take time to berate you for putting your 5 year old in a stroller?? I hope not.

    2.) I am impressed that the word “reasonable” is a part of his everyday vocab. That is so cute.

    Aanother good job fielding his tough questions!

  2. 1) that IS my opinion about why you put an almost-five-year-old in a stroller. Eve went through a period when she refused to ride in the stroller, and it was miserable. I jumped at the chance when she was willing to go back in.

    2) once we were in an airport waiting for a delayed flight and the woman assisting us told us she had a grandson who had recently died during an operation for a heart problem. Angus then commenced feeling his chest and looking very worried for the next few hours. I feel your pain.

    3)having a thinking child will probably make up in the long run for the monumental pain-in-the-assness it is now. I hope.

  3. He asks questions like my oldest son. It was my daughter who pursued them all the way and then would worry, just a little, about the likelihood of it affecting her.

    I also have that auntie, but she’s a dear. It has broken my heart to see her tortured by her own mind, visiting her in hospitals and halfway houses all her life. Hard to say what is worse – when she’s doing badly (it is truly terrible), or when she is ok. When she’s ok she sort of knows what is wrong with her and what her life was reduced to. That kills me. (She was in her late teens / early 20s when her disease showed up).

  4. If only we could assuage our worries as easily as we can our sons’. Calvin, too, asks really tough questions, pursues them, and then worries about the answers. But he still trusts us enough that he can stop worrying when we tell him he doesn’t need to worry (not yet). He does sometimes revisit the worries, though.

    As for the easier questions (I got the exact same question about lava), I love being able to say, “Let’s go look that up.” Thank God for the internet!

    Here’s to truthful but reasonable answers for our almost 5-year-olds!

  5. I agree that being honest is one of the best things we can do for our children. So far I have been able to stay true, right down to the death questions. Other than Santa, the Easter bunny and the tooth fairy, I’m the truth teller. (and those only because I defer to my husband’s wishes.) You have done a great job with two difficult topics.

  6. You know, my mom was always totally honest with us when we were kids, and it really did make a HUGE difference. She even used to tell us at the doctor’s office when we were going to get shots, and that yes, it would hurt. (I remember one doctor in particular flipping out on her about telling me that it might hurt, and she practically yelled at him, “Well, I’m not going to LIE to her about it!”)

    Even when I was going through teenage attitude and all that crap, I always knew she would never straight-up lie to me about anything. Seriously, you can’t build the kind of trust and respect that engenders any other way.

  7. I have an uncle with schizophrenia. I think my mother was worried when I was a teenager/in college about my getting it, but of course I don’t have it. And I don’t recall worrying. Anyway it’s a miserable thing to have, and it makes everyone around you miserable, too. Sorry to hear about your aunt. You sure she’s schizophrenic and not a hoarder? I’ve worked with hoarders when I was a social worker. Oof.

  8. your honesty (and choice of when to not reveal too much) is great

  9. I [power]walk at least three miles a day. Eight or 10 would be better but I don’t usually have time. Alas. My kids rode in a Baby Jogger until they were about five. Once, another little kid asked me what was wrong with my child, thinking she was in a wheelchair.

    There’s no schizophrenia in my family (that I know of) but we have more than our share of compulsive hoarders.

  10. I think you are handling these questions just right… the important part is to be honest but at the same time reassure the kids that they’re safe! Obviously, nobody is 100 percent safe from things like mental illness or homelessness (and I know that better than anyone!) but you can’t really let kids drive themselves nuts worrying about it!
    Also, about the jogging stroller… that made me laugh because Little Bear and Tigerlily, who are 6 and 4,almost always ride in the stand=and=ride stroller on long walks! I think its a lot easier than trying to drag short-legged, tired, complaining munchkins by the hands… plus its not really much different from pulling them in a wagon, is it?

  11. The only opinion I have on the stroller issue is that whatever makes life easier is a good thing!

    I think being honest with kids is the only way to be, giving just enough info when needed. Our son wants to know the truth and would most likely hold a grudge if he found out that we lied.