Whoever said children should be seen and not heard was really missing out on some great insights. Listen to kids closely enough, and it doesn’t take long to realize that in between the gags and temper tantrums, it’s sometimes as if they’re channelling the divine. As a parent, I’ve come to know this. I only wish I knew how to tell the difference.
I was volunteering in my son’s kindergarten class at lunch one day when the table talk turned abruptly from who could build the highest tower of blocks to capital punishment, life, death, rebirth and the curious role that those icons of spring — birds and rabbits — may play in it all.
“In the United States, if you kill someone, the government kills you,” announced a five-year-old orator suddenly to those of us seated around his lunch table. He looked to me for affirmation.
“Some states have a death penalty for particularly terrible crimes,” I responded slowly, totally uncomfortable with the macabre turn that the conversation had taken.
“In Canada, we just put you in jail,” he went on authoritatively as his little classmates stared at him, transfixed. I nodded, hoping that the topic was closed. But the boy went on. “I’d rather be dead than in jail,” he proclaimed, standing up at the table to more fully command his audience.
“Why’s that?” I asked, then immediately regretted letting the topic of discussion go any further. I shot a guilty look at the teacher to see if she was listening, sure that I’d accomplished the impossible: I was going to be fired from kindergarten volunteering.
“Because jail is boring,” he reasoned. “All you do is stand around, looking at the same walls every day. Death is not boring.”
“When you’re dead, you can fly,” interjected a ponytailed girl who had been listening intently.
The tiny speaker nodded. “And you can turn into something else,” he added enthusiastically, “like a bunny rabbit.”
“Or a bird!” exclaimed another wide-eyed listener.
Oddly, it was not the first time I had heard birds, rabbits and rebirth come up in the same context. I was immediately reminded of a conversation with my own son a few years back.
“Mommy, do you remember that bird?” he asked spontaneously as I stirred a pot on the stove.
My son was born at home and one of my favourite memories of his birth was of a little songbird that sat on the skylight over the bedroom, singing its heart out while I laboured for hours. I had never shared that story with anyone, so it did not seem possible that he was referring to that bird.
“What bird?” I asked nonchalantly in mid-stir, not looking up from the pot.
“The bird when I was born.”
Everything went silent in that moment. Goosebumps came up on my arms and the back of my neck and I turned my head to stare at him with the spoon frozen in my hand.
“Mommy, I was that bird,” he said serenely. “I knew you were going to be my mommy and I couldn’t wait to come see you.”
Tears welled up in my eyes as I put the spoon down on the stove and kneeled to hug him, hard. He kissed my hair and brought his lips close to my ear as he kept talking.
“Mommy,” he breathed softly. “Do you know what I was before that?”
“What?” I asked in a voice that was barely audible. I took a deep breath and prepared for him to expound next on anything: the meaning of life, ancient secrets or the origin of the universe.
“Before that I was the Easter Bunny.”
By Anita Odessa