Our walk to school every morning takes us alongside a small cricket pitch. Yesterday morning there was a rabbit stretched out on the grass, clearly dead, but nevertheless looking decidedly relaxed.
Belle, who at seven years old is highly sensitive and often slightly melodramatic, spotted the bunny straightaway. “What’s that rabbit doing there Mummy?” she asked, looking concerned.
I then had exactly two seconds to make a decision. Do I tell her it is dead, which will result inevitably in her crying and clinging to me at the school gates telling me she never wants me to die ever ever, or do I lie?
“I think it’s sunbathing,” I said confidently. “It’s a lovely day after all and he looks very relaxed there on the grass.”
She was easily convinced and the conversation quickly turned to how much we liked rabbits out of ten. Belle likes to measure things out of ten, I think she finds it comforting. Phew, I thought, our brush with death was over…
This morning on the way to school though the rabbit was still there. Belle stopped to look at it. Then she looked up at the sky, which was distinctly cloudy, and I could almost hear her brain processing the variables. “Mummy,” she said, her bottom lip starting to tremble, “was it really true what you said about the sunbathing?” I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t want to lie, but I also didn’t want to upset her. Every parent’s daily dilemma.
“Well…” I stalled, “I’m not 100% sure, but shall we pretend it is?”
She thought about it for a while, looking troubled, and then squeezed my hand. “Yes, let’s do that.”
As we walked into school Belle looked at me and said “I wish bunnies belonged to the Queen, like swans. Then they couldn’t die.”
Now I ‘m not sure what to do. I really don’t want to walk past the dead rabbit again tomorrow morning. I’m not sure how long we can pretend he is enjoying the warm weather, especially not now it has started raining. If I had a husband, this would be the point at which I made him go out with a carrier bag and move the corpse into a hedge so that tomorrow I could say ‘Oh look! He’s finished sunbathing and gone home!’ But would that really solve my problem?
I’m not normally squeamish about talking to my children about death – Belle understands that everyone dies, but that doesn’t mean she likes it. Her Great Grandfather died a couple of years ago and, although she was only five and didn’t really know him well, she still talks about him a lot and has asked several times to be taken to the cemetary to ‘spend some time alone with him’.
I know children have to be able to talk about death, but that doesn’t mean I necessarily want it lying there in front of us every time we walk to school. We are all going to die, I know that, but sometimes I would quite like someone to come along and hide that thought in a hedge for me…