Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Did My Kid Just SAY That? by Gail Roughton


You never know what’s coming out of a child’s mouth next. That’s one of the perks of having kids. They can embarrass you one minute, have you in stitches laughing the next, and occasionally, leave you open-mouthed and slack-jawed in sheer amazement.

All my kids have done it to me at one time or another and my grandchildren do it to me now. But the family did she just say what I think she said prize goes to my daughter, Rebecca. She was eight at the time, leaning back against the bathtub and savoring the feel of the hot water. Bath time was one-on-one time, hard to come by in a family of three children and two working parents, and I’d learned to grab it with each child whenever the opportunity arose. Sometimes we’d just talk, sometimes I’d read to them. I don’t know who looked forward to bath time more, me or them.

On this particular evening, I remember I had a book in my hand. It was a rather special one, at least to me. An edition of Tales of Uncle Remus I’d had since I was twelve or so myself, purchased at the Uncle Remus Museum in Eatonton, Georgia, home-stomping ground of the author, Joel Chandler Harris, and the oral folklore that gave birth to the Uncle Remus stories. Okay, I was a nerd even at twelve when computers weren’t even thought of, I’ve never denied it. We’d been reading a story or two every night for a week or so. But Brer Rabbit wasn’t on my child’s agenda that night.

She sat straight up, fixed me with the amber eyes so large and gorgeous they’ve made strangers stop and stare since birth and asked me, “Mama, are we ever born again?”

Not a question Mama was expecting, I’ll tell you that. I wracked my brain for its possible source. Maybe she’d caught a telecast of a Church service on television? A talk show, maybe? Or heard a radio show I wasn’t aware of?

“You mean like — are we born again when we die and go to Heaven?”

“No, no, no!!!” Her hand slapped the water. “I mean when we die, are we ever born again, here, on earth? In another body?”

 Eight, I thought to myself. She’s EIGHT! Where the heck is this coming from?! I wasn’t so startled I didn’t recognize this as the most basic description of reincarnation I’d ever heard, but for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why she’d have thought of it. I fell back on the best child-rearing advice I’d ever gotten. No, not from my mother, or aunt, or mother-in-law, or best friend. From Atticus Finch of To Kill A Mockingbird. That fictional single parent and his major guideline of child-rearing got me through a lot while raising my kids, especially Rebecca, to-wit: When a child asks you a question, you tell them the truth. They don’t necessarily have to understand exactly what you’re saying, they just have to know you’re telling them the truth. Because they’ll know if you’re lying to them. 

So I gathered my wits about me and took a deep breath. “Well, that is, in fact, what many of the world’s religions believe, yes. That when you die you’re born again in another body.”

“But what do you believe?”

Great. Couldn’t avoid that, could I? “I believe it’s a probability it’s a possibility, yes.” I haven’t spent my entire adult professional life in a law office for nothing. “Becca, what on earth made you think of this in the first place?”

“I don’t know, I was on the playground the other day and it just seemed like I’d been there before, done the same things before, just in another body.”

Ah! De’ja vu, I thought. I was, in fact, rather relieved. A strange phenomenon, to be sure, but one pretty much everybody’d experienced at some time or another. I should have left well enough alone. But of course I didn’t. I just had to ask. “Well, then—who were you?” I mean, she was eight, of course she’d say, “A rock star.” “An Indian maiden.” “Cinderella”. Maybe even “An Alien Princess”. Something exotic, something dear to the imagination of childhood. Nope. Something utterly, completely, down-to-earth. Something realistic, and assuming that any universal recycling program called reincarnation does exist, completely possible.  “I don’t know," she said slowly.  "But I was black and had a lot of pigtails.”

From nowhere, I remembered my mother laughing about the stories one of my older brother told when he was small. Stories about “a long time ago when I was an old man.” So let the academics and professors and religious leaders debate all they want. I’ve never looked at reincarnation the same way since. I never will. Nor will I ever forget that night when out of the mouth of a babe came that beautifully basic and elemental description of such an extremely complicated and controversial belief, stripped right down to its barest element.  You know what they say about the sensitivity of children and animals. They know things.  Things we don't.  Or possibly...things we used to know but have forgotten?

Besides, I’m a writer. I’ve told you before—we never waste anything. We just recycle it into these things we call novels. Like my War-N-Wit, Inc. novellas. Wherein my heroine Ariel Anson Garrett wasn’t so sure about that thing known as reincarnation either. And boy, was she in for a surprise!


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