Monday, March 13, 2017

The Squirrel

Walking home from preschool a couple of weeks ago, on a sunny but windy day, Greta and I unfortunately came upon a newborn squirrel writhing on the sidewalk, clearly just fallen from the nest on a tree branch high above us. It was pink and wrinkled, eyes not even open, and it was grotesque and heartbreaking. Greta is an extremely sensitive, nurturing, animal-loving child. I cursed my decision to enjoy the sunshine. This is why I should just stay permanently in our SUV.

But, standing over the baby squirrel, I was forced into one of those parenting moments where one is forced to weigh the truth (this baby squirrel will die) with the reaction one's child will have to that truth (wrenching sadness). I could have gone back for the squirrel and put it into a shoebox with a blanket, but to what end? So the girls could become attached to it and have their hearts broken when it died (which it would)?

Reader, I lied. I told Greta the mother would come for the baby and it would be fine.

Later that night, when Andrew got home, I sent him out with a flashlight to search for the squirrel. If he found it dead, he was to dispose of it so Greta wouldn't see it the next day. If he found it alive--well, I had no plan. None. Fortunately for all of us but the squirrel, Andrew didn't find it. I looked the next day as well, but apparently nature had run its course. Circle of life, cruelty of nature, etc. Poor little thing.

For several days, the squirrel incident had a significant effect on Greta. She'd always liked squirrels, but now they appeared in every picture she drew, their bodies twisting and elongated, just as the baby squirrel's had been. She narrated each one: here were baby squirrels with their mama and a cookie. Here were baby squirrels in a crib. Here were more baby squirrels. Each and every squirrel had a smiley face.

Somewhere in the midst of all this was Ash Wednesday, and I took the girls to church for a prayer service. While we waited for it to start, Lucia piously kneeled and prayed (she's in CCD; she knows church now), and I suggested to Greta that she could pray for the squirrel. She put her palms together, closed her eyes, and began quietly asking God to keep the squirrel safe in its cozy nest with its mother.

I can't. Parenting is just too hard sometimes.

So, sorry not sorry about lying to my kid. In theory, I like the idea of being honest with kids about hard truths, and I like to think I'd rise to it if need be on important issues. But that squirrel was going to die. Greta is five. She says she wants to be a vet, a horse caretaker, the owner of a hundred cats. She's my little animal lover. And she's five. 

Godspeed, little squirrel. You live on in Greta's heart and mind.

***I don't know why these pics are sideways. I will leave them here nonetheless.***