First she asks how Johnny Appleseed died, then Christopher Columbus. Eager to encourage her learning, even if it is morbid, we look up the details. Appleseed gave in to pneumonia at age 72; Columbus suffered a heart attack at 55. She’s not satisfied. What is pneumonia, she inquires. How does a heart ‘attack’ you?


We answer best we can, without too many details. Although it’s not uncommon for kids to ask about death, Toots seems more obsessed than most and right or wrong, I don’t want to encourage it too much. After all, she’s my clone and I’d rather she be unhaunted by the idea of dying. She’s just like you were, my dad says smugly. Now you know what it was like. Vague comfort that, because you’d think I’d know how to handle her better, but I flail and bluster. I worry I’ll screw her up. After all, family legend has me as a neurotic nutcase and I still wear that label. I’d rather she not think of herself that way.


But still. Oh my dear Toots. What do I do? Wonderfully, you are curious about everything, eminently verbal, deliciously left of center, and I wonder if I gave you my overthinking genes. Of course, I’ll hear that it’s OK, yet I know all too well how tangled this mindset can be and how it can exhaust you and keep you from life. Also, it can be wonderfully invigorating and full of imagination. Extremes. I just want to keep you off the deep end.


Daddy? She asks. Do you have to go to work today? He answers yes, but he’d much rather stay home. You can kill yourself, she suggests. Then you don’t have to work. The logic is there, sure, but…


Well, but.


My eye hurts and seems infected. The irritation comes and goes, so I put off visiting the doctor. Yet I lie awake at night wondering if I have a systemic infection that’s traveled to my orbital bone, will soon reach my bloodstream, killing me from sepsis. But I don’t say this out loud. I keep it to myself and hope that Toots hasn’t picked up this mind disease through telepathic genetics. Some thin strand that’s transmitted my worry DNA right to her cerebral cortex.


I stare at her at night. Stroke her hair, chuff her chin, kiss her milk cheeks. So many nights she tells me she has nightmares and while they seem relievedly comical as she recounts them, I ask myself why so many nightmares?


When Toots was three, I told her I liked spooky things. I’d noted her fondness for Scooby Doo and mysteries and the unexplained, and in an attempt to bond, I shared my love of the scary. After that, every library visit found her selecting Halloween books and begging for spooky stories. Then we visited Disneyland and the Haunted Mansion topped the list of must-sees. I relented and we waited in line, but as the doors closed behind us and the floor dropped, she panicked. A few minutes later, the ride broke and we sat in a black carriage for 20 minutes while ghosts projected themselves on the walls.


She hasn’t asked for a Halloween book since.


Why did I tell her I liked spooky things?


Did I set something in motion in her head?


I think about these things in between worrying about my eye.


A few weeks ago, Toots began to say, “I’m going to kill myself.” She used it as a joke, a comic melodrama, but I reacted violently. STOP IT, I mouthed, especially after she said it to the grocery checkout girl. But why mama? I told her suicide wasn’t something to make a joke and she persisted. In a fit of not mincing words, I then told her that my good friend’s sister committed suicide and it wasn’t a joke. Do you see? It’s not funny. Of course, she needed more. How? Coronado Bridge. Did it hurt? It happened so fast. Why? I don’t know.


She’s only 5, but she asked all the same questions I did. Maybe she’s picturing it in her mind. Like me.


Like. Me.


I know. I know. This isn’t necessarily something to worry about. She’s just a kid. She is imaginative, artistic, creative, curious. I have the same morbidly inquisitive mind and I’m OK. In fact, maybe this mind will actually finish its morbidly creative book one day.


It’s just that I see so much of me in her and I know firsthand those extremes. She’s so emotional, she’s ruled by feelings, the imagination. This can be good, dammit, I know that. But if not properly channeled, it’s not so good, and dammit, I know that too.


When I was in the 7th grade, I made my dad take me to an eighth grader’s funeral. She’d had leukemia, her name was Peggy Burns, I didn’t know her. But I needed to see her. She wore white, I think it was her confirmation dress, there were ruffles around her neck. Her hair was dirty blonde, short, fluffy. She had white skin with red on her lips and cheeks.


I see the lacquered casket, the smelly flowers, the throngs of people.


My dad took me. He knew I didn’t know her, but he also knew I needed to see her.


He remained uncharacteristically silent that night.


Did he worry about me?


If I asked, he’d make a joke, but I think maybe a little.


Still here I am. Forty years old. Not eating my cat. A family. Two beautiful girls.


It’s a good life.


She’ll be more than OK.


She may even finish that book.



16 Responses to “Strands”

  1. adrianne says:

    oh, how i love thee…
    i have a 5yr old boy that is eerily similar with his questions, vivid imagination and curiosities. recently, he asked, “mama, are you going to die?” i held him tightly in my arms and rocked him. after several seconds passed, he said, “mama, are you crying? why are you crying?” i suppose all parents eventually get this question, but i fumbled. i fumbled for a correct explanation, the right ANSWER.
    parenting. it’s sofa king hard.
    btw, toots will be great. just like her mama.

  2. Da Goddess says:

    She’ll continue to worry you for many years. That’s her job. If it’s not death and spooky stuff, it’ll be something else.

    As for the “I’ll kill myself” stuff…ugh. I hate hearing that from kids. Both of mine have uttered that and I’ve gone into the whole “don’t say that! It’s a terrible thing” and the 45 minute explanation that suicide isn’t something you take lightly or mention casually and “oh my God, it hurts me to even think about it”…but my point was made and they both stopped saying anything remotely like it because they didn’t want to hear me talking that much ever again.

    Hugs to you and Toots!

  3. stoneskin says:

    Sitting on a broken ghost ride for 20 minutes would do a lot of damage to me, that’s for sure. I’m glad you’re not eating your cat, cat’s are difficult to digest.

  4. Barrie Summy says:

    It is so difficult not to worry and obsess. I think, though, that you’re doing a great job as a mother.

  5. merrymomof3 says:

    Christopher Columbus died of Sphylis. You probably don’t want to tell Toots that, though.

  6. Blognut says:

    Being just like you is not such a bad thing, Deb. I’m sure she’ll be just fine. You are.

  7. I think she sounds like a cool kid.

    I have a six-year-old sister, and whenever she asks about death, I try to be as honest as possible without frightening her. She’s lost two grandparents, and I tell her frankly that they’re in Heaven.

    Her grandfather died from a lung disease, so she knows that he had trouble breathing.

    With regard to the outlandish statements, I wouldn’t be too worried; children aren’t socialized yet, and because they’ve never encountered certain things they don’t know how charged they are.

    My sister, for example, recently told me that she “doesn’t like brown people” because Troy Bolton, the main character from High School Musical and my sister’s crush, is caught up with Gabriella Montez, who happens to be brown.

    I explained to her that we don’t say things like that, and then I explained why.

    “Pie, people come in all different colors,” I said. “And it doesn’t matter what’s on the outside. There are good brown people and bad brown people, just like there are good and bad white people and black people. Some of your friends are brown. And what color is our president?”

    “Brown,” she answered slowly.

    “Exactly,” I told her.

    Eventually, they figure it out.

    I think your daughter’s inquisitiveness is a good thing.

  8. Theresa says:

    I am always sad that we are not living in the same…country and we are not raising our girls together.

    But today, after reading this, I AM SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO sad.

    Because my Gracie- who is little Theresa- would hug Toots and tell her she is an amazing person. and they would be friends forever- no matter where they go, no matter how much time has passed. Because they are alike, sure…but just different enough to be perfect companions.

    When Toots gets buried in her deep thoughts and her brow is wrinkled in worry, Grace would say “Why so serious? We have so many cute outfits to wear! And books to read! and a world to see! Let’s go jump rope and pretend we are ponies!”

    Oh, and on that ride, Grace would take her hand and whisper funny jokes in her ear and make her crack up. They would end up taunting the ghosts, giving them names and go grab ice cream after.

    Just like we did.

    Love you! We sooooo need to SKYPE. Why arent we skyping???

  9. Wow, your daughter, my sons. SO much curiousity, TOO much imagination, ALL of my fear. Irrational fear, but fear.

  10. Danielle says:

    Wow are you in MY head? How did you get in there? I am having these same feelings with my just ready to turn five year old daughter. She is so sensitive to everything. I am struggling and wondering what I’ve done for her to be like this. But she is so smart and imaginative so maybe I’ve done something right. But I worry constantly about it.

  11. She’ll be fine. Bright and creative and talented, just like her Mommma.

  12. MissM says:

    I am thinking you are normal here… I have the same over active immagination. If left to my own devices, I imagine someone breaking into my house and dismembering me, I imagine fiery car crashes, I imagine my car accidentally plunging off the Coronado bridge (this fear alone leaves me unable to drive myself across it to this day. Every time I try I end up on my way to Mexico instead). I have always done this in my head. I don’t want these things to happen, in real life or in my head, and I work really hard to push them out. I force myself to think of something else. Sometimes it works, and sometimes not.

    My girl started doing this recently as well. Usually at bedtime, maybe as a jealousy thing about the new baby, or maybe because she has my genes too. Either way, she too is going to have to learn how to control it…

    You are doing a good job momma…

  13. tinsenpup says:

    Wow… This is great. And she will be awesome. No doubt at all about that. She’s like you for starters, which is quite the advantage in the awsomeness stakes.

  14. Deanna says:

    Well, my girls both asked, “Who gets Grandma’s bride doll when you die?”

  15. I like your blog UR bookmarked Thanks

    Alex Curtis in San Diego

  16. g says:

    I loved ghost stories as a kid. They made me scared and delighted at the same time.

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