Monday, December 16, 2013

I Would Like to Request a Different Story

I am obsessively writing and rewriting an email to my son's teacher.

I think my son's teacher is super awesome and I adore him and am grateful to him for all the kindness and compassion he's shown to us.

But I do have a problem and the problem is this: each student in his class is to choose a book to read with their parent over winter vacation. The book my son chose, The Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo, is sad. Spoiler alert: the tiger dies...OF COURSE THE TIGER DIES. This is meritorious serious quality children's literature we're talking about; something  beloved and beautiful MUST DIE. We must grind our children's souls to dust and then blow the powdery soul particles into the wind and away, before they reach middle school.

My son still hasn't completely recovered from Where the Red Fern Grows. His class read Where the Red Fern Grows in October and if you so much as allude to anything red and fern-like or say the word 'dog'  or 'dogs' my son will weep and rend his clothes. FYI, the dogs, plural DOGS die in WTRFG. They die gruesomely and horribly. Also I've been informed that a kid accidentally disembowels himself with an ax. That's a story anyone would find uplifting and hopeful, if they were sick and evil.

I'm not even going to mention that my son is still grieving the death of our very old cat Pooka. She died this summer. My son cried himself sick and still mourns for her.

My son is also upset about the death of one of my mom's cats. My husband, my frail elderly mother, and I brought Gus in to the vet the day after Thanksgiving. The diagnosis was cancer, and the only humane choice was to have the old fellow put to sleep then and there. I was supposed to go home and tell my boy that his pal Gus the cat was dead, but I just couldn't.

So the spouse and I tried to pick the right time to tell our deeply empathetic son about Gus's passing. But it never was the right time. Either he'd be crushed right before school and have a terrible day or he'd be crushed after school and be unable to function in the evening and then next morning he'd still be a wreck.

After a few days, I sort of forgot to mention it.

Saturday evening, our 15 year old daughter whipped out the sad ugly truth perhaps unintentionally or perhaps with cruel intent, I can't say for sure which. It cast a pall over the weekend that still lingers. I should have told him right away and yet his response has been overwhelming and profoundly painful and illustrates the very reason we didn't tell him in the first place.

Let me add that my son is missing his friend Ruth who died last summer at the age of 86, but whom he misses more keenly  right now because of the holidays and memories of Ruth at Christmas time.

My husband's mom died a year ago this month. That was difficult and complex, because my husband's mother was difficult and complex. Also, it's sad, of course.

Last night my son asked if I wanted to hear the only items on his Christmas list. I did.

These are the only things my ten year old son wants for Christmas

1)  that Pooka the Cat be alive and with us again
2)  that Gus the Cat be alive and with us again
3)  that Ruthie, our good kind friend, be alive and with us again

Then he looked at me sheepishly and said, as for his dad's mom, well, you know, he was sorry that she died, sad because his dad was sad, but, you know. My son assured me that he wasn't trying to be mean, but, it was sort of, maybe, okay that she just not be alive and with us, ever.
No offense.

No offense taken, my sweet boy.

Then he added quietly, that perhaps there might be a certain video game he wouldn't mind having, you know, since bringing loved ones back from the beyond wasn't possible for Christmas.

Okay so, I mean, you can see why  I need to ask for a less emotionally fraught book for my son and I to read over Christmas break. We need a good book where nothing dies. Not a person, not a pet, not a wild animal, not even a houseplant. No dying allowed. None.

We have dealt with enough of death, I don't want death to be lurking in the form of a book, overshadowing our Christmas, damn it.

I could tell all of this crazy stuff to his very nice teacher or I could just be direct and request a different book and not explain why, but neither option seems quite right.

I never know how to handle stuff like this.

I guess I'll abandon the email and just make a phone call tomorrow morning.

I'll let the school folks think what they want about me.

I'll be happy to just have a week of vacation with my kids and lots cozy reading time together on the couch. We don't have to read gorgeously written wretchedly sad stories though. Maybe we could just make up our own stories. Stories where the dogs and tigers and cats and old ladies, the loving ones, never have to die.

Little boys can be happy and not worry about death lurking, little boys can play fetch with the good dogs who are happy and who don't have to die. Little boys and old ladies can travel on the backs of tigers, who do not have to be a threat to anyone and need not have to die, with warm purring cats perched on their shoulders like parrots or curled atop their heads, living breathing cat turbans, bowlers, sombreros, or sleek kitty-cat cloche, depending on the disposition of the cat and the boy and the lady, also perhaps the day of the week and the season.

Those who are dear and deserving will be with us always. We can make things the way we need them to be. It's okay to want our stories to be fun and happy. Sad stories aren't better they're just sad.

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