Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Don't shoot the messenger

This time last year we were on our way to Australia. I can't believe it's been a year, but there you go, it has. Now, preparing for a 5 week trip away covers a number of things, including but not limited to; packing; making sure you have the right stuff to pack; and trying to find somewhere that sells summer kit for your sons who have grown out of last year's clothes when the only stuff in the shops is left-over from the sales or suitable for a British spring (which, as it turned out, would have been just the ticket as we froze in our inadequate hard-bought summer clothing in the South Australian late Autumn...).

Then, of course, there's the Home Front; advising the nursery that your sons are going AWOL for the next few weeks; organising someone to come in check your flat every now and again; and trying to eradicate the mice so that when you get back from such a long trip out they haven't decided to move in their pets, pictures and furniture.

One of our key concerns, however, was rather different. Sometime around the end of summer 2007, Boy #1, then turning 4 years old, discovered the wonder that was Steve Irwin. The Discovery Channel was running a season of Crocodile Hunter programmes throughout the holidays, and he became an instant addict, lapping it all up. Every other word was 'Crikey!', everything worth remarking upon was preceeded with 'Have a go at that!'. Husband and I didn't mind; as role models go a slightly over-enthusiastic animal conservationist was not a bad choice for a four year old.

Until, of course, he died. What to tell Boy #1? How could we break the news that this larger than life idol was gone, killed by one of the very creatures he was trying to preserve? So we dodged the issue, figuring that the fascination would fade away and he would find another hero. Fat chance. Of course he didn't, and as our trip to Australia got ever closer we realised we were going to have to confront the issue head-on, especially since Australia Zoo was a non-negotiable part of the trip for our son.

Husband and I agonised over what to say, how to break the news, and how to present it in a way that wouldn't cause him to lose sleep or refuse ever to paddle in the sea again. Finally, a few weeks before we left, we told him. There were tears, but it wasn't as bad as we thought it might be, and the possibility (in his mind, at least) that he might bump into Princess Bindi at the zoo seemed to carry him over the worst of it. Now he's matter of fact about it and just accepts as a fact of life that such things can happen.

However, yesterday afternoon a friend bought her son over to play with mine. They unearthed one of Boy #1's treasures, the site map of Australia Zoo, and were poring over it together. "A's just discovered Steve Irwin" my friend told me. "Discovery showed some of his programmes this weekend and he's become a fanatic about it in the space of two days." "Just out of interest" I asked "does he know Steve's dead?" "Um. No. Not - as yet. I hadn't got round to it. What do you think I should do? Does Boy #1 know?"

Exactly on cue, the boys tumbled into the room. "Look, Mum! Boy #1's been to Australia Zoo! Did you see Steve Irwin, Boy #1?"



  1. Harsh realities to a child. How did he take it?

    I remember a 7 yr old friend's budgie dying as a child, his mother was planning on breaking it to him sensitively when he came home from school - until his little sister came running out of the house yelling "Bubble's kicked the bucket! Bubble's kicked the bucket!"

    Not subtle.

  2. It's always best to let the children sort it out! I can't wait to read about your upcoming adventure.

  3. Ur did I read that right - are you going on a new adventure or were you just referring back to last year's adventure as back story? I'm a bit jet lagged and slow today.

  4. OMG - Mud in the City - that story is hysterical!

    Sorry Potty, I'm done monopolizing your comments.

  5. It sucks that you even had to tell him. What a tragedy that was. I'm worried similar things will happen if Jonathan gets hooked on him. Reality, harsh or not, simply is not fun to deal with with little ones. May I hire you to tell Jonathan anything bad and sad like this?

  6. Mud, great story. As for A, I texted his mum this morning to check how he was; 'perplexed' was the word she used...

    RB, sadly that was last year's adventure. Egypt is as good as it gets for us this year, I'm afraid!

    Lisa, of course. Although I think the best way to deal with it is just to be upfront with them the first time they watch it (assuming they are old enough to understand). Otherwise you end up with yesterday's situation. And kids are amazing - they will accept these things, probably better than we can.

  7. Isn't it normal for children to learn about life and death through a pet!
    My children are so matter of fact about death. My son keeps saying 'your nan's dead isn't she mum' - quite blunt but it's just another part of life to him!

  8. Wow, 5 weeks in Australia, I'm having cold sweats about packing for 2 weeks in America.

  9. Tara, it is, but that would entail having parents responsible enough to remember to feed one, so that's out. No, tv heroes will will have to fulfill the role of educator here for the moment...

    Erica, we actually only packed for a 2 week holiday and looked at it this way; they have washing machines AND shops in Australia. (and of course even just packing for 2 weeks there was stuff that didn't get worn. Well, some of MY stuff, anyway...)

  10. Great post. Thanks for sharing.

    Mrs. Nurse Boy


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