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I Have No Idea If I Said the Right Thing to My Kids

Photograph by Getty Images

For the last year, I have loved where my kids are at. If I could freeze them, I would. They're 4, 5 and 9 and, wow, is that the child-raising sweet spot.

I keep thinking of how grateful I am for everything, as if that will ward off an earthquake. I've even started placing fragile items and shelves and decorative ledges and not even worrying about earthquakes. (OK, I think of the earthquake, but it doesn't un-nerve me to my core.) I am getting better at not worrying about what I can't control, at least for short bursts of time.

Probably temporary but I'm going with it.

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Last night, as I fed the two younger ones, my 5-year-old boy, let's call him Nugget, looked at me and said, "Mom, when will we die?"

My iPhone is broken, so I couldn't quickly Google what to say.

"I don't know honey," I responded. I was hoping he'd stop, but he plowed on.

"The thing I'm not going to like about being dead is getting buried. I do not want sand in my mouth," said Nugget.

Tears welled up in my daughter's huge eyes. "I'm scared mom, I don't want to die," she said. "Will you hold my hand?" she wanted to know.

"Of course, I will," I said.

I looked up from the kitchen counter as my husband rounded the corner with our son silent in his arms. Both of them were crying.

When I was little, my parents just told me we'd go to heaven with Jesus and God. I'm raising my kids Jewish, my husband is Jewish, with a little bit of Christian influence—Jewstians.

I tried channeling deep into my InSight LA Mindfulness instructor's mind and wondered what the Hell she'd say. Here's what I came up with: "We are all here right now, eating dinner." I put my arms around them both and snuggled, wiping away my daughter's huge tears.

I remember how I avoided death with my oldest, now 9. I avoided dead ladybugs for a week, after our catch-and-release plan went awry. Finally, I let him watch "Charlotte's Web." He was 4 at the time. I looked up from the kitchen counter as my husband rounded the corner with our son silent in his arms. Both of them were crying.

Now, as a seasoned mom, I took a more pragmatic approach. Or schizophrenic, whichever. That's how I feel like we moms are parenting these days, swaying back and forth between how our parents raised us vs. the enlightened parents we are trying so hard to be today.

I was hoping I had ended the conversation until the Nugget said, "Well, we are going to die. You can go in the ground or you can be burned, those are your options, Deli." (We'll call my daughter Deli.)

I waited, I took deep breaths and told myself I did not need a beer.

"I don't want to be burned," said Deli, "I'll go in the ground."

"Yeah, me too," said Nugget, "Can they freeze me mom?" This is not the kind of freezing I want to do to my kids. Though I think some rich people probably are frozen, right?

"No," I said.

I made a joke and concentrated on them finishing dinner.

'Oh, man,' he said. 'You tell them that it won't happen for 100 years and not to worry.'

I let them play in the bath, their sweet innocence intoxicating. I just sat and watched and didn't rush them.

Afterwards, when they were all warm and in their pajamas, Nugget came out and into my room.

"Mom, what if I die before you? What if I'm older, and you are a grandma, and I die?"

I treaded carefully then blurted out, "I'll jump in the ground with you."

No idea if I did that right.

Early this morning, in the dark before I woke up the kids, I whispered to my husband what happened.

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"Oh, man," he said. "You tell them that it won't happen for 100 years and not to worry."

We smiled at each other, and I kissed them all goodbye and felt grateful. And yes, as nearly always, I tried pushing the fear away.

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