From toddlers to teens, there is something about a car ride that is conducive to intimate conversation. It just figures that the one time I want to listen to the radio, have a semi-private moment or just get from A to B, the ‘backseat driver’ starts talking. And I mean really talking — about the subjects that I beg her to talk about at dinner. I can’t really blame her — the car is a neutral zone. It’s one of the only times that we are alone and distracted. One of the only times that I’m not literally in her face; I can imagine the joy of no eye contact. Although most of us feel that DVDs are right up there with the invention of the Post-it, they can be a deterrent to conversation. Dr. Alissa Barosin, a child psychologist in Williston Park, feels that “having the availability of DVD players in the car can interfere with a parent’s few chances to speak to their child one-on-one during the day”.
In my DVD-free car, I recently had this car conversation with my 5-year-old, Sophie. My mother recently passed away, and during her decline I was trying to help Sophie process the concept of her going. OK, I was talking with Sophie about it a lot so that we could both process it — maybe talking to her about it would console me. At bedtime or breakfast I might bring it up, and, well, she never bit. Wouldn’t you know the one morning we’re late and the only thing on my mind is getting her to school and my getting to work on time, when up from the peanut gallery I hear…
Mom, is Grandma still in the hobital? (read hospital)
Yes, she is…
Is she sick?
Yes, she’s very sick.
Very, very, very sick?
Yes, Soph, she is.
Is she going to get dead?
Well, yes, she’s dying…
Well, it’s when your body stops working and rests forever.
What’s after dying?
(Yikes). Weeellll, dead is after dying. Then your body doesn’t work at all.
Will I still be able to see Grandma?
Well, yes, when you close your eyes and think of her.
Will I still be her pumpkin?
When I get dead will you hold me?
Yes, even if I’m not there.
What if you’re in the clouds and I’m far away?
I have Mommy arms and they are very long and will always find you — the same way that you know how much I love you even when Daddy and I go out and I leave a kiss in your pocket so that you can take it out if you need it. I’m still there. Always.
Am I dying?
Oh, not for a veryveryveryveryvery long time. You have a gazillion playdates ahead of you.
Hey, can Carly come over after school today?
Sure — I’ll call her mom.
And that’s that. She’s done (is showing no trauma), and I could pull over to the side of the road and have a good cry. I don’t. I just hope that I handled it OK and I fantasize about going back to bed for the rest of the day with a quart of ice cream.
Dr. Barosin offers this advice for discussing ‘sensitive’ topics with children:
—Respond directly and briefly to the question without adding unnecessary information (e.g. “Where’s Pop?” “He’s with your great-grandma.”)
—Be sure that the information you provide to your child is age-appropriate. For example, don’t try to explain an abstract concept to a young child.
The Fall of Freddie the Leaf: A Story of Life for all Ages, by Leo Buscaglia, Ph.D.
I Miss You: A First Look at Death, by Pat Thomas and Leslie Harker
Sad Isn’t Bad: A Good Grief Handbook for Kids Dealing With Loss, by Michaelene Mundy and R.W. Alley
PATRICIA RYAN LAMPL is a TV producer and co-author of the children’s book, ‘My