Prior to becoming a parent, I envisioned that the most challenging conversations I would have with my child would be about sex or peer pressure or working to one's potential. I also expected that those difficult conversations would commence in the preteen years. How wrong I was.
Today's difficult conversation began as many do, in the car. Five year old Girlie was talking about something which reminded her of her former nanny, whom she mentioned by name with the caveat: "but she doesn't want to be our friend anymore." That had been the best explanation I could give a 4 and a half year old about why her nanny left without saying goodbye to her. My exact words at the time were that she didn't want to be our friend anymore and when asked if we would see her again, my response was a clear "no". Today I muttered under my breath to Mr. Problem Solver, "Are we ever going to be free of this?"
But today Girlie wanted more information: "Why did she not want to be our friend anymore?" I told her that this was one of the most difficult parts of someone not wanting to be our friend anymore, that usually we don't know exactly why. I said that this makes it hurt even more, because we're confused about what happened. She then asked if this had ever happened to me. I told her yes. Then she said to Mr. Problem Solver, "Daddy, did you ever have a friend and then he or she (yes, she really used that phrase) didn't want to be your friend anymore?" Mr. Problem Solver said yes and then Girlie asked, "What was his or her name?" Mr. Problem Solver said he didn't remember, that there were too many. Then she wanted to know if they were boys or girls and he said both. I then explained that since we are a lot older than she is, we unfortunately have had the experience of someone not wanting to be our friend many times.
She asked me if I remembered the name of someone who was no longer my friend. I told her that I did and I said it was funny, because she has the same name I do. I told her that even though this happened a long time ago, my heart still hurts when I think about her. She asked me if my friend was a big girl or a little girl and I said that we were both big girls when it happened, but that my friend actually had a little girl of her own, like Girlie. I told her that I loved this little girl and played games with her and read to her and went places with her but when her mother didn't want to be my friend anymore, I couldn't see the little girl again. Girlie immediately said that this was just like what happened with her nanny, who has a sister Girlie's age that now Girlie can't see again, because her nanny doesn't want to be our friend anymore. And in that awful moment of clarity, I realized that these are the most difficult conversations -- the ones with questions that can't be answered with powerful admonitions or warm reassurances or clinical statistics.
I have comfortably and confidently given Girlie the proper names for genitalia; described her birth; discussed same sex marriage; challenged her notions of gender and even navigated the topic of death and what I believe happens to the body and soul after death. But I am nearly unhinged attempting to explain why people stop loving each other.