Somehow, in the wee hours of the morning, worrying about how to tell my daughter about the death of our dog turned into reliving the loss of my mother and rekindled my greatest fear about not being around for my daughter.
Now that I am a mother myself – and because I became one late in the game – I often find myself doing one of two things. When my daughter has done something that makes me really laugh or shake my head in wonderment—which is happening more and more now that she’s truly becoming her own person —I find myself almost stepping back to replay the moment again as if to lock it into my memory. Those moments make me giddy with happiness.
Then there are other, bittersweet occasions when my daughter asks me about the future. She is obsessed with becoming a mother. Lately, she has taken to asking all kinds of questions: “When I grow up and have my own baby will you buy her toys?” and “When I grow up and be a mommy, will you be the nana?” I try not to let her hear the catch in my voice. “Of course,” I always answer brightly.
Based on my family history, I know there is a chance I won’t be, and that breaks my heart. I try not to think about it, but last week, as I explained death to her for the first time, it was an inescapable thought. Life is fragile and fleeting and it sure isn’t always fair.
The next morning, when I told Madeline that Sassie had gone to heaven, she took a minute to respond and then said with all the wisdom a five year-old could muster, “I’m glad she’s got Fred up there to play with.” Ten minutes later, I let out a huge sigh of relief when she asked, “When are we getting another dog?”
I thought I was home free until the next day when we were driving home from school and my daughter asked me, “Are you going to die, Mommy?” It took me what seemed like forever to choke back the tears and muster up the forced cheerfulness needed to reassure her. “I’ll be here as long as you need me,” I told her. Then I silently prayed I’ll be around to keep my promise.
Betty’s multi-tasking parenting columnist is a New York Times best-selling author who covers fashion and entertainment for publications, including People. When she adopted her daughter from China in 2005, she discovered motherhood provides great material on a daily basis. Between driving her daughter to nursery school and juggling play dates, she writes and is at work on her first novel.