I knelt in front of him to zip up his windbreaker and, as always, Lyle immediately dove straight into my arms, face buried in my neck with his great bear hug. But this time the hug was accompanied by a question. A big one.
“Mommy?” he said, speaking directly into my hair. “When will our days be all done?”
Assuming he had accidentally added the plural “s” to day due to some serious nap-refusing fatigue, I grinned and said, “The day will be done tonight, Sweetie, after dinner, when you’re in your pajamas and get into bed. That will be the end of the day. I know you’re tired and would like it to be the end of the day soon.”
But he pulled away from me just enough that his big brown eyes were mere inches from my own and I could see that I had gotten it wrong. “No, Mommy. All of our days. When will all of our days be all done?” and then buried his face back into my neck and began to cry.
In the moment, all I could think to say was, “We’ll have as many days together as we need, Lyle. As many as we need,” as I continued to hold him close.
I still don’t know what he meant for sure, but as the afternoon and evening wore on I picked through my memories of recent conversations around the house; most of them were with Baxter, but Lyle had been present. Jokes with Baxter about how he’ll someday dream of moving out on his own because I’ll drive him nuts (which he cannot believe right now, the sweet boy) and be ready to go his own way. Conversations about the year after next, when Lyle will go to kindergarten and be in school with Baxter. It would not surprise me to learn that my 3-year old has heard those things and felt some pangs of separation anxiety, and so I checked in on those topics today and made sure he understood that he’d be with us just as long as he needed to be.
But I think today’s tearful exchange was about death. My first thought was, “No, he’s too young for that,” but then I recalled that Baxter was deep into the topic of death at the time of Lyle’s birth, and had been peppering us with questions on the subject for a couple months prior to that. (I recall vividly sitting on the sofa breast-feeding newborn Lyle, Baxter perched on the chair across from me, leaning forward and asking with intensity, “When are you and Daddy going to die, Mommy?”) That places his initial awareness at Lyle’s current age, 3 years 8 months.
It’s an important developmental stage, I know that, but I absolutely dread going through it again. Seeing my own mortality through my child’s eyes, and not having any real guarantee for him that I’ll be around as long as he and I would both wish is depressing to me. I have felt really sad ever since this conversation.
“When will all of our days be done, Mommy?”
I wish I knew how to even begin to answer that.