Friday, June 26, 2015

Loss of Innocence

--Written August 7, 2006

It has been almost a year since Marv told Kyle about the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus. The disclosure came as a shock to me. I wasn't ready. And although I trusted my husband’s judgment (mostly), I cried.  Immediately following the revelation, our oldest seemed to transform from a boy full of wonder into a young man who skeptically analyzed every tradition or game he encountered, a ten-year-old cynic.  Overnight, life had become a magic trick, and he was going to figure out the secret, expose the lie.  I will admit that this phase annoyed me to some degree because I no longer enjoyed the “Mom knows all” status that I once (thought I) had.  However, like all phases, his intense questioning of things faded and I was almost relieved when a few months later he was bewildered by the fact that the Tooth Fairy had forgotten him.  There were no looks of accusation.  There were no sly you forgot, huh, Mom? grins directed at me.  Certainly he had made the connection; but then again, maybe he hadn’t.  For a moment, my boy wonder had returned.

It was January of this year when Marv and I took our first (and last) cruise to the Caribbean.    I had spent countless hours figuring out details: packing just the right items, getting birth certificates so we could leave the country, and making arrangements for the kids to stay with grandparents and friends.  We even had a Last Will and Testament notarized.  I thought I had everything covered until a few days before we left, it occurred to me that we hadn’t made arrangements for someone to take care of Hondo, the kids’ dog.  I immediately thought of Kyle’s friend, Michael, but when I mentioned it to Marv, he insisted that we take the dog to his Dad’s.  It would be less hassle, and I don’t think Marv wanted to rely on an eleven-year-old to remember to feed and water a dog in the middle of January.  Besides, it would give Lolly something to do.  And it did.  He sectioned off a warm, cozy place in the barn and assured an anxious Kyle that there was no way he could get out.

Needless to say, I was devastated a few days later when we called from Houston and Lane told me that Hondo had, indeed, gotten out, and Kyle, along with Uncle Rod, had gone out looking for him without success.  My mind raced.  Maybe he went home, maybe he was out on the farm somewhere, maybe...My mother-in-law hesitantly answered my request to talk to her. I was trying to be positive, suggesting all of the possible scenarios of the dog's whereabouts and likely return, but each one was met with a, “That’s not going to happen.”   Thinking it strange that such negative responses were coming from the most optimistic person I knew, I kept on suggesting possible scenarios regarding the dog's disappearance.  It wasn’t until I threw out possibility number three or four and was met with rejection that it finally occurred to me to ask, “Do you know where he is? ...  Is he dead?”  I was sick when she confirmed what should have been the obvious.  I could hear pleading in her voice as she defended Lolly’s “set up” out in the barn. “There is no way that dog should have gotten out...We both are shocked...A female must have come along ...”(sure, blame it on a female I seethed).  “We just can’t figure...”I quickly ended the conversation with my unapologetic mother-in-law and announced to my husband, “Your dog is dead.”  Being a little quicker on the uptake, Marv said he had gathered as much from overhearing just one side of my phone conversation with his mother.

Baffled by his family’s seeming lack of emotion and matter-of-fact way of handling what I saw as a tragedy, I did what any frustrated wife would do.  I called my mom.  She was appropriately sympathetic, felt bad for the kids, and shared a story about a beloved dog she had.  I also called my sister Janice and my brother Todd, both of whom shared my pain in a way I appreciated.  Feeling slightly better, we sailed away into the ocean, very aware of what awaited our return.

Throughout the week, Marv and I shared our sad Hondo story with fellow cruisers and many beloved pet stories were shared in return.  We were advised by several people to just let our kids think that Hondo had run away, but Marv would not hear of it, especially since my family knew of the dog’s fate.  Ugh! Why had I opened my big mouth?  Why did I have to tell my family? Oh yeah, because I was looking for the “appropriate measure of sympathy."  Sympathy that I needed from my family, but didn't want to have to offer to my children.  I didn't want them to know. I didn't want them to need sympathy. I didn't want them to hurt.

I begged Marv not to tell the kids and swore my family could keep a secret (knowing that wasn't entirely true), but as with the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus delusions, he thought the truth was our only responsible option.  I let it go at that and hoped he would change his mind before returning home.

After gathering the kids from their various destinations, and hearing all about their week (including that Hondo had run away the first night we were gone), I thought the coast was clear.  Marv hadn’t said a thing, and I was thrilled.  I thought maybe he'd had a change of heart and was going to let the “Hondo ran away” theory live on forever.

I thought wrong.

I will never forget the following Sunday afternoon.  I was on the phone with my friend Angela, telling her all about our first (and did I mention that it would be our last?) cruise when it happened.  Kyle walked into the living room with sunken shoulders and a look of excruciating pain on his face.  I practically hung up on an understanding friend and listened as a crushed little boy kept repeating through broken sobs, “Hondo’s dead, Mom.”  He had accepted his own runaway theory and had pictured his little buddy freely roaming on someone’s farm, or riding in a truck, keeping a nice older gentleman company.  But death?  It was unfathomable to his young, innocent heart.

Even after Marv had quietly related Hondo’s tragic end to Kyle, he was still full of questions and doubt.  Maybe it wasn’t Hondo who had been hit on Utah Avenue.  It was some other dog who just looked like him.  Payson Animal Control must have been mistaken.  They had the wrong dog!  Uncle Rod had talked to the Animal Control Officer the morning during our search.  If he had seen Hondo in the back of the A.C. truck, dead, why did we keep looking for him after that? My answer to his confusion was simply that, “Uncle Rod wanted to protect you, so when he saw Hondo’s body in the back of the Animal Control vehicle, he pretended he hadn’t seen it because he didn’t want you to know.  He didn’t want you to hurt, so that is why he said, 'Let's keep lookin' when he came back to you in the truck. ” As Kyle processed what his uncle had done for him, I wished we had followed Rod's lead and gone with the less painful option—even if it meant withholding the truth.

There have been many tears shed over Hondo, and I am sure there are more to come.  One thing I still grapple with is whether or not it would have been better to let our children believe that their dog had just run away.  I know, as a parent, it would have been the easier path to take, but I trust that Marv knows something of childhood-pet relationships and the lessons learned from their loss. 

In the end, it is my hope that Kyle will trust us, knowing we will tell him the truth--no matter how confusing, no matter how difficult, no matter how painful.  I figure we all have to learn at some point that with confusion comes understanding.  With difficulty comes growth. With pain, an opportunity to be comforted and feel peace.  It is my prayer that our children will learn and accept these universal truths.  But in the meantime, I selfishly hope our boy of wonder will return.

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