The speedometer was flickering between 27 and 29, it was raining and we were driving home.
The radio was murmuring quietly. I was paying attention to not putting my car into the wrong gear and discussing what food ninja turtles would best like to eat, pizza or chocolate cake. The conversation yo-yoed as it does when you are talking to a mini person with the attention span of a moth. All of a sudden my little boy sighed and said in a small voice that made my heart tremble,
‘I miss Ra-Ra.’
Ra-Ra was a dinosaur toy he was given for his second birthday, it was half the size of him with eyes that glowed red when it roared.
It roared A LOT and scared Leo at first.
Toys with sounds are on my top ten list of things that give me stress wrinkles. Ra-Ra and Leo did everything together; they watched TV, they went to the park and Ra-Ra was force fed spaghetti hoops because he was a ‘kind’ dinosaur. A few months ago when trying to figure out where the batteries lived Leo broke him.
Children’s experience of the scale of a loss may appear illogical to an adult…He lay on the floor for 45 minutes and did not sleep that night. We talked about how he felt, I encouraged him to label his emotions; his tummy was ‘angry and crying’. A child who is dealing with loss has many of the same feelings and needs that we do, but because they are a child have far fewer resources and abilities to cope with feelings than we have.
It’s up to us to provide them.
I could not fix it and Ra-Ra lived on top of the dresser waiting for the ‘dinosaur doctor’ (Attenborough?!). We moved house, the dresser shelf became empty and Ra-Ra took a one way trip to the recycling centre.
Any form of change or loss can be unsettling for young children but Leo had not mentioned him since and I thought we were safe. Rookie mistake.
‘I broke him and now I miss him.’
Acknowledging their little feelings are so important…I turned off the radio and put on my soft mummy voice, the voice that will instantly settle a little one, will reassure and comfort them, like a warm blanket in winter. Affection and security.
As a child my favourite book was the velveteen rabbit. Cliff notes version, it is written about a toy bunny that was very loved but as the boy grew up, was forgotten and thrown out. BUT because the boy had cared for him so much magic made it real. At 28 the story can still make me cry with its simple loveliness. I pondered creating a similarly fantastical response for Leo to help him manage his sadness but knew he was aware that dinosaurs were extinct…That said he saw a Jurassic park advert and informed me the world was wrong as ‘evidently’ (a 5 year old using the world evidently is terrifying) dinosaurs were real as they were on TV… children interpret things literally so he cannot grasp the idea of CGI.
I did not want to confuse him even more.
I encourage attentive and creative responses to children but as magical as a tale like the Velveteen rabbit would be, I did not want to lie to Leo. A friend offered me a beautiful alternative. Ask your child to think of the toy, or whatever it is that has been lost and ask them to talk about it. Get them to close their eyes and describe them as clearly as possible, imagine a real picture in their head. Explain that they will be in their memory, which is for ever. We also watched a video of Ra-Ra and added some happy to his sad feelings. (Not a blogger standard video but one which brought a smile to my little lads face…)
Often little ones will lose teddies and blankets which is another type of loss we have experienced. I have when Leo was tiny bought duplicates, posted lost posters and written postcards from that toy on holiday, it is up to you as a mummy or daddy. There is a lovely book called letters from Felix, again about a rabbit that gets lost and travels the world.
I always feel helpless seeing my little boy unhappy, we can’t take away the pain, but our sense of helplessness need not restrain us from reaching out.