Tuesday, August 29, 2006
"Now no matter, child, the name:
Sorrow's springs are the same"
-Gerard Manley Hopkins
I think it was only about the 30th time we'd seen Isaac's favorite movie, when it hit him.
"Mommy, where Coy-al?"
"What happen Nemo's mommy, Coyal?"
He did say what I thought he just said. Right?
Sure, I'd worried a bit-- okay, more than a bit-- the first couple of times I watched Finding Nemo on DVD with my son, that the sudden disappearance of Nemo's mother Coral (along with, let us not forget, over 399 of Nemo's unhatched brothers and sisters) after the arrival of a menacing, razor-toothed barracuda might, uh, you know, disturb a small child, especially one as discerning, and one as anxious, as Isaac.
But after several viewings of the film with no reaction at all on his part to the tragedy at the beginning, I relaxed. Come on, now. He's just a baby, I thought. He likes to watch the pretty fish swim in the pretty water by the pretty coral reef. He's not analyzing things. He'll probably thinks Nemo's mommy went off to work, or took the eggs to see Grandma, or something, assuming he even thinks about it at all.
After all, he doesn't even know what death is.
So, when, after we'd had the DVD for a couple of months, the question came, I was caught off guard. I panicked. What should I do? What should I say? Should I lie? Should I tell him the truth? How can one possibly explain death, of a PARENT, to a child who is still learning to talk?
In the seconds I had to decide, I settled on evasive half-truth plus diversion.
"Oh, Isaac, that mean fish took Nemo's mommy Coral away. But look! There's Nemo's daddy! Nemo's daddy, Marlin! He just found Nemo in his egg! And what is he saying? He says, 'It's okay. Daddy's got you.' He's going to take good care of Nemo, right?"
"S'okay. Daddy got you," Isaac crooned absently, seeming now unperturbed, transfixed by the pretty colors once more.
I sighed with relief.
But the next time we watched the movie, it happened again:
"Um . . . "
I repeated my previous performance. Half-truth, diversion. It worked.
It became a ritual, over the next few weeks, every time we watched the movie (which, in case you're wondering, was pretty much once a day, as he almost invariably chose it for his limited daily TV time). He asked, I evaded, he lost interest.
Eventually, he stopped asking. But every time he watched the scene where Marlin finds Nemo alive in the last remaining egg, Isaac chanted, in a queer, sad, empathetic voice, "S'okay. S'okay. Daddy's got you." Occasionally he insisted that I stay near him for the first ten minutes of the film, holding his hand.
It bothered me. I didn't like to see him even upset by something he'd seen on TV, not even this slightly. But still, he loved the movie. I loved the movie, the first time I saw it all the way through (which was with him, at home), enough that I could still tolerate having it on after seeing it a kajillion times (I could even, actually, still laugh at about three of the jokes).
More weeks passed. He fell in love with other, newer DVDs. But these were passing infatuations. Whenever he'd had a bad day, he still wanted Nemo.
And then one day, he seemed particularly agitated as it came on. "Mommy. STAY. HERE!" he commanded quite imperiously when I started to take some dishes into the kitchen. He wrapped his little hand painfully tightly around mine. "Watch," he demanded.
The barracuda came. My tiny son looked me in the eye.
"What happen Nemo's mommy Coyal?" he barked, his gaze penetrating.
"I . . . oh . . . that big mean fish . . .that big fish ate, her, sweetie! He ate her! She's gone! She's dead."
I'd said it. I'd just admitted to my baby boy that mothers can die. They can die, and never come back.
What in the name of all that is innocent had I done?
He paused for a moment, contemplating, maintaining his iron grip on my hand.
Then, "Find Coyal?" he asked, tentatively.
"I don't think Marlin can find Coral, Isaac. You see, she's--"
This time, it was a statement of fact.
"Go look for her," he continued. "Keep looking. Will find Coyal. Look. Maybe look far. Look up in the sky."
(Up in the sky?
Yes, he really said that.
Did I mention we're heathen heaven-doubters, over here?)
And ever since then, my son has been on a quest to find Coral.
When he plays with his Nemo and Dory bath toys, he tells me they're going to find Coral.
When he plays with his Thomas the Tank Engine trains, when they're not helping "Sir Happy Hat," of course, they're off to find Coral.
The Hot Wheels cars, the Little People, and an entire zoo of stuffed animals have been recruited for the search.
"Find Coral," he says, in a hopeful, commanding voice, just tinged with a hint of sadness.
"Oh honey," I said one day in response, "We're all trying to find her. Everyone in the world."