Monday, August 09, 2010

Math and Mortality

Last night I'd just settled down on the sofa with Hubby--Child safely tucked in bed--when we heard the shuffling of small feet.


That's my cue. It doesn't happen too often these days, but it used to be pretty common, when she had nightmares or was worried about something. I'm the one who gets up and sorts it out, as many times as it takes, until she's okay.

It feels like a parenting challenge, like I'm stepping up to the plate. What's wrong? Is she sick? Upset? Just not sleepy? Is it a curveball? Will I be able to handle it right this time? Will I be caring and patient?

I take her by the hand, walk her back to her room, sit on the floor in the darkness, and pull her onto my lap. "What's up?"

"I'm worried," she gulps, hesitant. "What if I close my eyes...and then I just don't wake up in the morning?"

Oh dear God. It's not a simple nightmare. It's MORTALITY.

"But you will, boo," I say. I stroke her hair. "There's no reason you wouldn't."

"There's no reason," she counters, "but it's possible. It can happen without a reason."

Ah, my logical girl.

"Yes, it can," I concede, because I can give her nothing less than the truth. I'm spinning for ways to reassure her that are truthful, that acknowledge the seriousness of the worry underneath without making the fear worse. "But it's very unlikely."

"But possible," she argues.

"Yes." I nod. "It's possible." I kiss her hair. This is not helping. Think of something helpful. Logical. "But like I said, unlikely. Think how many mornings you've woken up already."

She looks up at me, big-eyed in the dark, interested. Aha. A way to diminish the fear.

"How many mornings do you think you've woken up?" I ask. "Let's see...8 and a half years..." Oh someone help me, MATH. "Times 365." Simplify, simplify. "What's 3 x 8?"

She thinks for far less time than I would've at that age. "24."

"Cool. So 300 x 8 is 2400." I consider if I can do the rest of it in my head, and concede defeat. "Plus all those 65 days times 8. You're probably at like...3000 mornings." (Hey, I was close.)

"That's a lot of mornings." She laughs. We're doing well at fighting the fear demon. She's definitely more interested in the days now than in the possibility of not waking up.

"And what about me?" I ask. "I've woken up a LOT of times and everything's been okay."

"How many?" She bounces on my lap.

Math fails. " don't think I can multiply that high in my head."

"Let the calculator do it!" she says. It's something she can solve, now. "Get the calculator."

"If you get in bed," I say, "I'll get the calculator and we'll figure it out. And then you can go back to sleep, okay?"

She gets back in bed. I get the (magical) calculator. We figure out the *cough* high-ish number, and she is suitably impressed. Then I kiss her again, tell her I'd see her in the morning, and I love her more than anything.

Not hit out of the park, exactly, but I think I was on base.

It didn't work completely with the restlessness--I had to go in again about 10 minutes later, because she was hot and trying to open her window by herself--but we talked a little more, and shortly after that she really did drop off to sleep.

I never thought I'd use math to soothe my child's fears, or expected that I'd need so much creativity on a daily basis to try to figure out solutions to those everyday fears, struggles, issues. But then you never really know what it's like to be a parent, and face that challenge, until you're a parent, and suddenly it's THERE and you're the one responsible.

As I told her the other day, though: I highly recommend becoming a parent. In spite of occasional struggles, it's the most fun I've ever had.


Laurie Lamb said...

I'm going to try your math solution the next time the mortality issue comes up with my kids. Thanks, Susan.

Linda G. said...

You are a very good mom. :)

kristina said...

Ug. Two of my least able skills: math equations in my head and dealing with death questions. However, bringing kiddos into the world is all about probability. In this case, by the time they are 10, you will probably done much more difficult things than either one.

When our dog died and my son was 3.5, death was the conversation every night before bed. Every night.

Wish I'd thought to do some math - he's a math guy and it would have satisfied him much better than my mere words.

{hug} And may the math continue to get harder and the numbers ever larger!

courtney said...

omg this story softens me towards math a little. and that is NO SMALL FEAT.
you are a wonderful mom & person, suze. :)

Susan Adrian said...

Laurie: I don't know if it would work with most kids, but mine is really analytical (as well as highly imaginative, of course), so it seemed to work just then. Good luck!

Linda: (((HUG))) You are one of my mentors, bb.

kristina: Thank you. And I echo that wish. :)

courtney: I KNOW, RIGHT?? I was like MATH I LOVE YOU. Right then, anyway. :)