How does one explain death to an almost 4 year old? I've tried a couple of times now, and its not going so well.
At school, the class is made up predominately of boys, so Mags gets a LOT of exposure to superheroes and guns and bad guys and things of that gist. We've been trying to enforce a 'no guns, no playing 'dead' rule at our house, but Mags keeps trying to skirt it. "But Mom, I'm not doing it at you," or "I'm just pretending with myself, Mom. You don't have to worry!" So we keep trying.
The other day, Mamacat brought home a bird she'd caught. She was very excited, and I congratulated her mightily before scooping up the ex-parrot with a paper towel and dropping it into the trash. When Mags got home that night, I asked her if she wanted to see the bird Mamcat had caught. Thrilled, she peered into the trash can. "Excellent job, Mamacat!" she exclaimed. Then she asked to play with the bird.
Me: No, honey. You can't. Its dead.
Mags: But why not?
Husband: No, dead is like its broken.
Mags: But we can just fix it, right Mama? We have tape! And scissors!
Me: No, baby, beig dead is like being so broken you can't fix it. Being dead is for always. That's why we don't like to joke about being dead. Because once you're dead, you can't stop being dead. There's no more.
And so on it went until both sides agreed on an unspoked truce. We were fumbling mightily, and her mind was too filled with people no longer being dead on the playground. Guess I really don't have to cement the idea with her now, and frankly I'm afraid of saying too much and scaring the crap out of her so that she never wants to go to sleep again or somethign equally traumatic, but I wish I didn't feel like such a putz tripping through an explanation....
Some days, I'd give my kingdom for an instruction manual.