Philosophy with a 5-year-old

It goes something like this:

“[Older foster brother] is the old boy?”


“I’m the new boy?”

“That’s right.”

“I’m newer than [new foster daughter who just arrived today]?”  (New foster daughter is 3 years old.)

“No, she’s newer than you.”

“I’m older than her?”

“That’s right.”

I know where this is coming from.  “Your grandpa who died” is, in a sense, part of the family, dying as he did in the first week after Elder Son arrived.  When asked why he died, I usually say that he was “very, very, very, very, very old.”  So I know that my younger foster son has a real investment in being “new.”  It means that he’s farther away from dying.

He looks right at me and says, as he has sometimes before, “I don’t want to die.”

And before I can reply, he supplies the next sentence himself:  “Nobody wants to die?”

“That’s right, honey.  Nobody wants to die.”

“But we all do?”


Sometimes the conversation goes on with “Why?”, and I say that that seems to be the way God wanted it, but I don’t know why.  This time Younger Son doesn’t reply, so I continue, “But the important thing is to have a good life.  To have a lot of fun … and a lot of love.”

That’s something I couldn’t have said to him in my 20s and 30s.  Because I was too scared myself.  I don’t know why I’m less scared now.  But I’m grateful.  I think of my other grandpa, who as he lived through his 80s and into his early 90s used to say, “I’m content.”  And he didn’t just mean with his life; he was content with his life in light of the awareness of death approaching.  I hope I live long enough to be like that.

Younger Son asks, “If you don’t have a lot of fun, it’s a bad life?”

“Some people don’t have so much fun, but they still can have a good life.  You can learn a lot.  And have a lot of fun and a lot of love.”  I’m thinking of Jonathan Livingston Seagull:  Everything in life is either fun or a learning experience, or both.  Perhaps trite, but true; if it’s no fun, you can at least learn something from it.  If only how to avoid doing that again!

Learn a lot.  Have a lot of fun.  Love a lot and be loved.  That sounds like a good life to me.  And I want my five year old to grow into a comfort with living and eventually dying, with a sense that life is enjoyable and worthwhile.  That would be an amazing thing to learn from one’s parent.

They say that by the time kids are five, they’ve developed a theory of God, whether or not you talk about God with them.  So I talk about God, and I talk about life and death, and pretty much anything else that comes up, even when I don’t really have answers, even when it feels a little presumtuous to give answers.  I take some comfort from thinking that when they’re 12 or 13 they’ll know that I don’t know anything anyway!  So if I’m saying the wrong things (according to whoever knows about these things), they won’t be poisoned by it forever.