Our four-year-old had a friend over. I was watching a basketball game while they played nearby. They began discussing their respective lineages. How four-year-olds get into such a discussion, I don’t know. There must be something about toy trains that leads naturally into ancestry.
I let the ballgame fade away as I focused myself upon a little parental eavesdropping. I wanted to know what my son had retained from the things I’d told him about his family.
“My grandfather was a soldier,” he told his friend.
That was very nearly correct. It was his great-grandfather, but that’s all the same to a preschooler.
“He died when he got old,” my son continued.
Correct. He was about 70, which seems ancient when you’re four.
“My grandsister died too. She was sick.”
Grandsister? I don’t know what closet he pulled her out of; I’m sure I’ve never mentioned a sickly grandsister.
“And,” he said, with no more emotion than he’d displayed when recounting the demise of his faceless grandsister, “my father died because somebody shot him.”
What? I’m sitting right here!
Number 1: You’re clearly lying.
Number 2: It’s rude to speak of someone’s grisly death right in front of him.
Number 3: If you’re going to tell people I’m dead, at least act a little cut up over it!
His friend pointed out that I was quite nearby, and although I displayed all the vigor of a declining couch potato, it was clear that I still clung to my low-grade existence. My son dropped the subject and picked up a locomotive engine.
A lot of thoughts go through your head at that moment when your son first begins to tell people that you are dead. Once you eliminate malice as a motive, you are assailed by a Twilight Zone of possible interpretations:
Is he a psychic, unwittingly foretelling my violent demise? Well, he didn’t see a Time Out coming when he threw a tennis ball at the TV screen, so his psychic powers can’t be too polished.
Am I seeing him in the future, when I really am shot and killed? It still wouldn’t hurt him to show a little grief over the event.
Does he see dead people (i.e. me)? Well, if I’m already dead, his friend, his brother, his mother, all my co-workers, and the guy who flipped me off in traffic this morning can see me too, which gives death no advantages over life.
After the shock of my untimely end wore off, I realized the truth. It had nothing more to do with the Twilight Zone than that my boy might have written for the show if he’d been around at the time. The kid is a storyteller. He likes storytelling so much that he blurts out the plot before taking time to review its plausibility. He said I died because he wanted to keep the story going and the word father came to him before he could conjure up a grandbrother.
The boy likes to spin a yarn, and since I have never been one to embellish any story or make any tale taller by a few inches, I can only blame his mother.