Five years ago, I had a conversation with my then-4-year-old son about what happens to our souls when we die. My mother-in-law had just passed away unexpectedly, and my son didn't understand how she could be gone forever when he saw her body lying right there in the casket at her funeral.
Our family believes in heaven, therefore, I explained how our souls go into the afterlife while our bodies remain here on earth. He wanted to know if we ever come back to earth. I said no (do we?) and that we go to heaven forever. His face crumpled and he began to sob.
He moaned that he didn't want to die and that he wanted to live forever. He cried that he didn't want to be apart from his family, ever. It was one of the most heart-wrenching conversations I've ever had as a parent. To watch my son come to the realization that he is a mortal being, let alone the ones he loves, at such a young age was one I will never forget.
This was when I knew I was parenting a child that was very in tune with the sensitivities of life. Over the last five years, he's had many more of those unexpected emotional moments and another happened just recently.
We were all sprawled on our living room couch watching a movie as a family and my son turned over on his stomach, turning away from the television, burying his face in the pillow he was laying on. At first, I thought he was just tired and asked if he wanted to go to bed. He whispered no in a shaky voice.
I asked if he felt OK and he nodded his head yes, his face still buried in the pillow. By this time, the whole family stopped watching the movie and I moved to sit next to him and rubbed his back, wondering why he wasn't telling us the truth. He turned his head to me and had tears in his eyes. Immediately, I asked, "What's wrong, buddy?" Silence. "Honey, please tell me what's wrong."
He turned over all the way and laid his arm over his eyes, crying more earnestly now. I asked while rubbing his leg, "Baby, what's wrong? Please tell me."
He said, "Nothing's wrong... I'm just really happy you are my parents."
Lump in throat.
I asked him what made him think of that and he said he didn't know. We weren't watching anything mushy or sentimental, which would have perhaps explained his emotional reaction, but then I realized a little later that our movie featured a bunch of teenagers living without their parents. The movie didn't dwell on their separation from their parents at all, but my little guy must have honed in on it, thus, his reaction. It hadn't phased me, or the rest of the family for that matter, but it didn't get past my little guy.
He does this often, this melting of my heart and breaking it open all at the same time. Having a child who feels so deeply and infers things at such a tender age is an amazing experience. I can't protect him from what he feels and I would never want to, but each time he has these deeply sad or overwhelmingly joyful moments, I know I'm witnessing something that is beyond me.
It's in these quiet yet powerful moments that I feel every ounce of gratitude that I was chosen to be his parent.