A story of grief by a man and a boy
My son just threw me a question after I’d said goodnight that I decided I shouldn’t just leave hanging. It was late, he knew he should already have been asleep, but sometimes you just know when it’s time to pause and have a proper chat.
‘If you get a new wife would I be able to call her ‘Mum’?’ he asked.
‘Would you want to?’ I replied, slowing bringing myself to sit on the bed next to where he lay, somewhat taken aback by his completely unfamiliar line of questioning.
He nodded softly but quickly went quiet; it was time to talk.
‘Do you actually want me to get married again?’ I asked.
Again, I noticed a gentle nod but he didn’t really commit.
‘I want a baby brother,’ he added, the conveyor belt of new relatives getting longer by the second.
‘But do you actually want me to be with someone?’ I pushed, suddenly realising I was conversing this way with a six-year-old, like any of it was his decision to make.
‘I just don’t want you to be lonely,’ he said cuddling up to me. ‘I think you’re lonely when I’m not around.’
‘I’m alright you know, Jackson. I’m not that lonely,’ I went on.
‘You are. I can tell. I know everything about you. I’ve known everything about you since I was three.’
It blows my mind how ludicrously funny his conversation would be if it were captured on camera for some dark family sitcom. It’s genuinely like his mother is back in the room.
‘I see my friends and my family when you’re not around, though. And I keep myself really busy. I’m really not that lonely,’ I reassured him. ‘Do you actually want a brother?’ I asked again.
‘I do, but I don’t want a white one. They need to be black or mixed race.’ By this stage the conversation has grown so sublimely shareable that I was looking for the hidden cameras.
‘It’s just I’m not sure I want to get married again,’ I pressed, ‘but when you grow up you can get married and have kids of your own – you can build your own family.’
‘Oh, no thanks!’ he snapped. ‘I don’t want to do that. Can’t you just do it?’
He shook his head at me, giggled, curled himself into my arm and nodded off. I had to write it all down immediately because otherwise I suspected I would find myself wondering if I’d made some of it up.
It made me think a lot, though.
How do we know what our kids want versus what they want for us?
Should a young child even influence a parent’s decisions when what they say can quickly flip from a seemingly teary conversation to a nothing more than a bit of a laugh.
Do we protect them or do they protect us?
Can we ever know what is going on in their minds?
I can’t answer any of these questions with any real conviction, but I can keep trying to make sure that I listen and engage when it feels like it matters most.
I mean, with that sort of conversation, who would ever want to miss out?