Finally got to the point where we had to tell the Padawan what happened to my dad, their pépé.
Death is kind of a weird subject to broach with toddlers.
Unlike a lot of other “milestone” events which you can prepare them and yourself for, death is one of those things that rarely has much build up to it. While we all know death is inevidable it’s also an event that’s is pretty unpredictable even among those we know are dying already. So, unlike preparing a child for a sibling, or the responsibility of a pet, or the losing of their teeth, or puberity or whatever, death kind of sneaks up on a lot of people a lot of the time.
Dovetailing from that, most adults I don’t think really have a firm grip on what death is. Sure, there’s a biological definition of death but let’s face it, it’s technical which probably isn’t comforting to most. Never mind the loose grasp of science many adults have in the first place. Then, there’s religious and spiritual explanations of death as well. But, they vary greatly in how they are interpreted by different groups and individuals and may not offer a lot of tangible explanations either.
But, having an emotional relationship with death is a lot different than just understanding the technical or philosophical aspects of it. And, confronting the loss of a loved one and grappling with the complexity of emotional responses that comes with it isn’t something most adults have a lot of first hand experience with to begin with. So figuring out how to help explain to a little one what that all means is a challenge.
This all makes the ambiguity of death tough to explain. Life is tangible. You know it because it’s here in front of you. You’re interacting with it. Death is like the anti-tangible. The person is gone. But, where did they go? Well their de-animated body goes into the ground but why are they de-animated? What happened to who they were? That’s a lot of ambiguity. You have to make a leap of faith that something happens to who they were.
The lack of a physical form not being animated makes this kind of difficult to figure out because my dad died from Covid during the early parts of the pandemic lockdown he died alone in the hospital. He was cremated without a ceremony and interned without a memorial service. There was no shiva or wake. There was no mass or service in his honor. There was not military gun salute and flag presentation. There was no formal good-bye to the “physical form.” So, we’re all lacking a bit of that closure after an extended period of not being able to prepare it for ourselves because there was no hospital visitation, there was no sacrament of last rites, there wasn’t even the opportunity to do a virtual good-bye because of his extended time in the ICU and how crazy the hospitals were at the time.
But, while kids have some great imaginations and there are some understandably popular mythology about the afterlife trying to explain death to a little one is a challenge. I feel like I’d written about this once before on the blog, but at this point I’m not sure how I’d go back over the years of entries to find it.
Anyway, the older Padawan kept asking to talk to mémé and pépé this morning. It happened a bunch of times earlier in the week too. At first, we just kept deflecting with the normal explanation that pépé was still sick and he wouldn’t be able to get on the video call but we could call mémé later in the morning and they could chat. Padawan was pretty inconsolable about it so we tried to deflect to offering other family members instead but they were insistent on missing pépé.
It was eating at me to hear them keep asking about it so I finally, holding back tears, told them we needed to have a chat about pépé. I’m not sure exactly how we went about the entire explanation really, it’s kind of a blurry mess in my head.
Padawan knows about the virus.
Our first way of helping them understand it was to have him watch different kid geared programming about it. Their personal favorite is Ask the Story Bots “How Do People Catch a Cold?” from Season 2, Episode 8. There’s a few tangental Story Bots that make good foundations into how the body works as well. Another good one is the “Germs!” mini-episode of Sid the Science Kid, and again there’s a few tangental ones about bacteria, and how the body works, etc which are helpful too. And Dr Binocs for Peekaboo Kidz has a bunch of shorts on germs, viruses, bacteria, etc which are fun too. There’s a couple of short T-Ed Talks that are good too, the one off the top of my head I remember watching a bunch of times was done by Yannay Khaikin and Nicole Mideo.
Second, in trying to explain Covid-19 we took the approach of saying that everyone could be sick but they might not know it. Since everyone could be sick but not know it we need to treat everyone like they are sick and behave as we would around sick people normally. This means we can’t go to all the places we normally would and when we go out we need to take all the extra precautions like avoidance, masks, extra hand washing, etc.
Third, because the older Padawan also saw how sick their sibling and I were for a couple of weeks, they have some perspective on how much different sick can be from the colds, ear infections, hand-foot-mouth, etc. We told Padawan that pépé was even sicker than their sibling and I.
As for death, we tried to explain that because of how sick pépé was his body couldn’t fight the infection anymore and he stopped being alive.
There was a brief kind of confusion trying to grasp that not being alive is kind of like what happens when you step on an ant or an earth worm dries up out in the sun kind of thing. But that just because the physical form isn’t there doesn’t mean that pépé isn’t there. We told them they could talk to pépé anytime they wanted to.
After some time of contemplation and all one of the questions that stood out was the conclusion they came to about talking to pépé among the stars. It was pretty cool for them to get to that without a prompt, and we told them pépé would always be there among the stars for them.
Later that day my partner took them both to the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. It was a trip that was already planned as part of a nature scavenger hunt they were going to do as part of a modified Tinkergarten lesson anyhow so it was a lucky coincidence, so to speak, that everything aligned. Unlike most modern cemeteries which are neat rows of headstones for as far as the eyes can see, this features meandering pathways that cut between ancient tombs in groves of old growth trees climbing up several miles of hillside. The Horseman’s Hollow from the Washington Irving story runs along the southern boarder while the northern flanks the old Rockefeller estates and the vast space in-between is steep in history, and thus, personality.
Upon their return all the Padawan wanted to talk about was the experience being there and how much they learned about what happened to pépé. It was very intense to hear them rattle off all their thoughts, but pretty amazing too how much they seem to be at peace with the news.
It’s impossible to know how long that magic will last. Or, how easy it will be for them to embrace this new, amorphous version of pépé.
My biggest concern now, honestly, is figuring out how to keep my dad’s memory and legacy alive. Not for myself, though, that’s going to be an issue too, but to help both the Padawan embrace who their pépé was…all of him, the legendary awesomenesss and the very human flaws and for them to hear all the stories enough such that they pass them down to the next generation the way I was told about my meme and pepe as great-grandparent and my grandfather who all passed when I was young.
To be honest, I’m a little blurry trying to type some of this stuff up. Maybe I’ll take a quick break and look at the stars.
20 albums, 20 days
Tagged by Rob via Kevin
–the “influence” of concept records–
Day Nine: Mastodon – Leviathan – 2004
The conceptual nature of this masterwork is two fold. First, it is loosely based on one of my favorite novels “Moby-Dick; or, The Whale” by Herman Melville. Secondly, it is considered the representation of the water element for the band’s tetralogy spanning their first four releases. It’s an ambitious way to start one’s career and so well executed that apart from two specific tracks (“Blood and Thunder” and “Megalodon”) I almost exclusively listen to the recording in full.
It was “Blood and Thunder” however that not only sold me on Mastodon as a passionate fan after only passively enjoying them for “Remission” but was the absolute perfect introduction to the album itself. My first exposure to it was actually from the label rep humming the opening riff to me and then doing their best impression of the call and response between Brent Hinds and guest Neil Fallon (Clutch). When I received the lyric sheet a few days after that my appetite was whet. Continued leaks from the label boardered on what under any other circumstance would have been overhype.
And, then I heard it. That opening guitar passage is a epic salvo and belongs in the annals of all-time great rock riffage. The albums really does have this epic, oceanic nature to it, where everything just washes over you with an awe inspiriting sense of the pelagic. It’s apocalyptically dark, even moreso than Mellville’s already insightful work into unraveling the human condition. And, it’s brutally heavy, building on itself in layers like a tidal storm surge from gritty distorted guitars, guttural vocals and the insistent pounding of the percussion such that even the softer sections still buckling under the weight of the albino cachalot itself.
Unlike the rest of Mastodon’s concept albums there’s almost a simplistic beauty to Leviathan’s short run time and succinct song lengths making it feel more approachable while never actually giving up on the band’s complex compositional heritage or progressive metal inspiration. For me, this is what allows the album to succeed rather than sinking to the depths of Davey Jone’s locker in an effort to do too much.
What did I eat?
We were talking about diner food the other day so I made myself another diner classic. Because I am a Jersey kid at heart and I fucking love me some diner food.
Hellllllllllo Happy Waitress.
No one knows what the name means or where it actually originated from but it’s a dirty Jerz dive staple. Literally, every shitty dive bar with a kitchen has it on “the menu” as does any respectable diner. True, some of the through-traffic diners and more modern, fancified, diner-like restaurants reduced the classic namesake to an easier-to-sell “open faced grill cheese” but anyone who’s worth their Jersey Pride knows it’s a Happy Waitress.
Classic version of it is literally an open faced grill cheese sandwich with made with mayo slathered white bread and gooey American cheese. It would seem like you literally could not fuck this up … but actually, I have had some pretty shitty ones over the years. Likewise, in it’s utter simplicity it’s a great vehicle to have some fun with too.
When I order mine out I usually get a slice of tomato and extra crispy bacon under the cheese, so making it at home that’s what I did, only replacing the godly porcine strips with Sweet Earth Hickory Smoked Seitan Bacon which is a passable substitute for these kinds of applications.
First, I like to cut the tomato and salt it in order to embed some flavor and leach off some of the extra moisture. Then, I fry the seitan up in a pan with some butter so it crisps up without completely drying out and set the seitan aside. Next I mayo both sides of the bread (we only have some multigrain we got at the farmer’s market, it’s pretty light in color though and has more of an oatbread kind of flavor rather than the nuttier flavor of most darker multigrains) and lightly toast one side. When I flip it over, I then mustard the other side with some dijon, place the tomato and seitan bacon on it and then place the cheese on top, in this case some vegan American and regular munster slices. The vegan American takes some getting used to working with but in combination under the munster melts up ok. Then for a little extra oomph, I sprinkle a little bit Coleman’s Ground Mustard powder on for good measure. Cover the pan so the cheese melts while the bottom of the bread toasts.
You can experiment with this a lot of ways, just look back at how I destroyed the Tuna Melt a couple of days ago and use your imagination in a similar fashion putting all kinds of stuff under the cheese.