I Thought I Had Years Before This Conversation

We’re snuggled up on the couch for our Friday afternoon movie while Little A naps. Once he accepts that we won’t be watching Fireman Sam, GG chooses a BBC -David Attenborough special on the Arctic. I silently congratulate myself on what a wholesome son we’re raising and pull him close.

He’s instantly drawn in by the vast white landscapes, the ice and the snow. He loves the polar bears and the seals… until one of the former eats one of the latter. Fuck. GG is not impressed.

At first he’s just grossed out, and rightly so. It’s pretty gorey. He asks why the polar bear is eating the seal and I explain that after animals die their bodies become meat. He seems to be okay with that and we keep watching.

A fox finds a dead deer and digs in. He turns away a bit but seems to be okay.

A few minutes on and some baby birds are learning to fly. Most make it to the water, but as David Attenborough points out, some are not so lucky. The fox is back.

It’s too much and he asks to watch something else. So we turn it off, and he sits there for a moment, the cogs visibly turning.

But people don’t die, right? He asks.

I take a deep breath.

We do, I tell him. Usually when we’re very old, and our bodies stop working.

But not in our country, right?

Yeh baby, here too.

But I’m not old. And you’re not old. Right Mama?

That’s right.

I’m so torn. I know I want to tell him the truth but I see how much he understands and he’s starting to get upset. I don’t know how much detail give, how much to sugarcoat. I thought I had years until I’d have to deal with this conversation.

In the hours since we turned off the BBC show he’s gone through it all, the entire human struggle with the knowledge of our inevitable death. He’s begged not to die. Fearfully asked if we would be eaten by bears. Lay on the floor looking despondent. Ascertained that at least humans don’t turn into meat. He’s tried to convince me that when we die someone can just come and wake us up and everything will be okay. He forgets and then comes back to it with a start, Mama, please can I not die?

My boy, my big 4-year-old boy, my tiny baby. Grappling with death. How can this be?

Somewhere in the middle my husband comes home, and joins in the next round of the conversation. He tells GG that the fact that we know we’re going to die is what makes us good people. That it’s what makes us seize the day, do interesting things, be kind to each other. I love that he added this layer to the story.

GG doesn’t respond per say but he pauses again, perhaps understanding that there’s something that’s okay about this horrible deal.

He fell asleep a few minutes ago, clutching his little arms around my neck. I reassured him that he’s safe and that Daddy and I will always protect him. That we have years and years and years to be together.

Before he dropped off he whispered to me, Mama, and I braced myself, feeling so guilty that he was gonna go to sleep thinking about death and scary animals. That I’d been too honest with him.

Mama, one plus one is two, right?

It is, baby. He flops asleep.

I just hope he’s dreaming about maths and not polar bears.


  1. Ahh those are the hard ones! He’s obviously a clever little soul too, as it’s about that age that Corey realised the same thing. He was close to his fourth birthday and he went to sleep crying because he didn’t want to turn 4 because “it’s one year closer to dying Mumma!”. 😦 It was also about that age he suddenly realised where his food must be coming from. We gave him the option to become vegetarian, but he decided to make up a whole fantasy and told me that actually the meat we eat comes from a farm where sometimes the animals just die because it’s their time and the farmer just goes and collects up all those dead ones and sends it to the shops for us to eat. Awww. To this day though he still won’t eat chicken because we had pet chickens! I love your sensitive and honest approach to answering GG though. x


    1. Since writing this I’ve spoken to other parents and learned that indeed – this is the age that the topic of death comes up. Interesting how we’re all so different and yet so similar at the same time, right?


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