Here’s what happened: somehow Mini heard the word “dead” — it might have been “death” or “dying,” the specifics remain hazy — so he asks us, “What does ‘dead’ mean?”
Then one of us (I’m not going to point fingers) gives the kid a straight answer about what death is — you know, like a less graphic but equally informative version of the answer you might give to an unusually naive adult you happened upon, who was somehow unfamiliar with the concept of death despite being fully grown.
Mind you, we aren’t religious people, so there were no saccharine descriptions of heaven or eternal bliss or any of that bullshit to candy-coat this concept for the little guy. Instead he got “He’s just gone,” or “We don’t really know,” explanation for where our cat, Coast, went that one day that he left and then never came back.
Ever since then, I’ve watched Mini struggle with the concept of death, on and off, in increasingly heartbreaking ways. First there was the process where he’d periodically remember somebody he loved, and then ask, “Will Brianna die?” and we’d be faced with the choice of either lying to him, or saying, “Yes, but not for a long, long time. Don’t worry about it, buddy, because it won’t happen until you are very very old.”
Then there was this conversation we had:
“Mommy, do you remember Coast?”
“Yes, buddy, I do.”
“I miss him.”
“Me too, buddy.”
“Where did him go? Did him go in the road?”
But I think the thing that topped it off was picking Mini up from preschool and being greeted by him insisting that he get to play one round of “Dead Astronaut” with Harry (one of his favorite teachers) before we leave. Curious, I agreed, and found out that “Dead Astronaut” consists of Mini lying in the middle of the play yard, pretending to be: 1) an astronaut, who is 2) dead, and who is then 3) rescued by his crew, who 4) then pick him up and take him to a “hospital” where he is miraculously saved. This game was completely designed and articulated by Mini, with very specific directions on how things should be carried out.
I have to assume this is Mini’s version of a repetition compulsion, where he tries to gain mastery over something traumatic by repeating it (fictionally). Like, if he plays Dead Astronaut enough times, he will finally get to an ending where there is no such thing as death, and everybody goes on living forever and ever?
A few weeks ago we were dealing with Oedipus, and now the death drive? At this pace, we’re going to have worked through the remainder of the Standard Edition before he turns four.