Tuesday, August 29, 2006


Last night I tried to put my son to bed an hour early. He'd fallen asleep the previous night a little later than usual, and awakened about ninety minutes earlier than usual the next morning, and I figured he could use some extra sleep. I hustled him through his ablutions, then washed and bandaged a big scrape he'd incurred on the playground, and which we hadn't had time to examine before. Then he read to me for a little while from his "Cars" book, which is his latest favorite story. Afterward, he rested his head on my chest for a minute. All was well, and I thought he would fall asleep; then he asked, "Why do hearts have to keep beating?"

Because if a heart stops, a person might die, I said.

"But what if a person's heart does stop?" he asked. Well, I said, sometimes the paramedics or the doctors can make it start beating again, or sometimes the person will die.

"But does a person's heart keep beating, even when they're asleep?" Yes, people's hearts keep beating all night long. Even dogs' hearts keep beating all night long when they're asleep. Even cats.

"Someday I'm going to be really old," he said, "like fifty-two." I told him he would live to be even older than that.

"Well, what if someday I'm really, really old, like sixty-seven...and you die? Mommy? Then who's going to take care of me?"


A fraction of a second after he asked, his face crumpled and he began to cry. I scooped him up and held him. I'm going to live for a really, really long time, I told him.

"But how do you know?" he asked, pulling away angrily. "You don't know everything!!" True, I said, but I know I'll be around for as long as you need me, I said. He breathed a little easier.

A few seconds passed, then he asked, "But if you die, I'll really miss you." I told him that if (if!) I ever die, I'll find a way to send him a secret, coded message. "Like what?" he asked. Like...I'll make a bird sing outside your window, or I'll make flowers bloom when they're not supposed to, or I'll make music play when you're not expecting it, and you'll think, Ah, Mommy must be sending me a message to say she loves me, I told him.

"Yeah," he said. He seemed to like this idea. He stayed there, lying on my chest, then scooted down and rested his head on my leg...and fell asleep. It was eight o'clock on the dot.

Now it's about four in the morning and he's still fast asleep...and I'm wide awake. I have a blood pressure monitor in my desk drawer, and a friend with a real health issue. I read the news too much, and I'm all too aware of how fragile life is. But I have to try to keep my promise.