Last month, Jules's preschool teacher had to put her 14 year old dog "Hamlet" to sleep. He's been a fixture of the school that Jules's teacher runs out of her home since Jules has been going there. He was the school doorbell, greeting our footsteps on the path up to the house with a one-dog chorus of barks, and its a mascot, a gentle creature who put up with small children tromping all over his house and never really seemed to mind. And now I sound like I'm eulogizing for a dog I barely knew, but that's where I head, I guess, when something like this happens.
Jules is not really a dog person. In fact, for whatever reason, he's actually mildly terrified of them. But he tolerated Hamlet like Hamlet tolerated him. They coexisted, peacefully. Hamlet's death prompted a slew of new conversations around death and dying, most of which I was not prepared for, mostly because I'm not myself prepared for losing anyone I care about. It's brought me to a place where I can no longer be the all-knowing parent, just a good story or a Google search away from the answer my kid seeks. Explaining death to a four year old has made me confront my own uneasiness around it, and ask myself some really hard questions. Am I really OK with not knowing for certain what happens after we die? I'm not, if only for the reason that I want to provide comfort and certainty to Jules (and later, to Kasper) when they want to know.
Jules has a peculiar (to me), but totally appropriate to his age, understanding of death. He seems to get that plants, animals, and people die, and is hugely fascinated with fighting, killing, and dying, but he doesn't see death as a permanent state. He wants to know what happens to his body, does it stop moving when he dies? When does it move again? What about his head? He's made up imaginary friends who he's said have died, but then later they did something special to make themselves alive again. For days we played "Hamlet in Heaven," a game where Jules took a little plush Texas Longhorn I brought back from a recent Dallas trip and named him "Hamlet" and used him as a sort of emmisary from heaven, taking his friends (us) from the land of the living on a tour of his new celestial digs. At the end of the day, when Hamlet has to send us home, he just waves goodbye nonchalantly. We'll be seeing him tomorrow, I'm sure.
So we've talked about (and role-played) heaven and reincarnation, and about what other people believe happens when you die, because I want him to be exposed to different ways of thinking about this (and about a host of other things) so he can make up his mind about what he does and doesn't believe, but I've yet to give him my position in a way that satisfies me. Though he seems satisfied, for now.
But until that time comes when I'm forced to confront this again, I'll leave you with my very escapist (perhaps) way of dealing with death: trying to prolong, or at least enhance this one life that I know we do have with a good, healthful, tasty recipe for soup. It's also a nice warming, earthy meal on a cold, sloppy day like the one I find myself writing in today. Serve it with buttered (yes, REAL butter, just don't go overboard) bread.
Spinach and Leek Soup with White Beans and Fresh Tomatoes
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 large or 2 small leeks, white and light green parts only, sliced thin and rinsed well
2 cloves garlic, minced
6 ounces baby spinach
4 cups vegetable (or chicken) broth
1 (15 oz) can white beans, drained and rinsed
a handful of fresh (I prefer cherry or grape this time of year) tomatoes, chopped
plain yogurt or grated parmesan
salt and pepper to taste
Heat oil and butter over medium heat in a large soup pot until butter begins to foam. Add leeks and a little salt and saute until soft and translucent, about five minutes. Add garlic and continue cooking until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add chicken broth and bring to a simmer, then add spinach and continue cooking, stirring, until spinach is wilted. Puree the soup with a handblender and then add the beans, cooking just until the beans are warmed through. Ladle into bowls and garnish with chopped tomatoes and a dollop of yogurt or grated parmesan, salt and pepper to taste.
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