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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, November 25, 2007

Dealing with a child's questions about death

By Treena Shapiro
Advertiser Staff Writer

I wasn't that surprised when my 4-year-old tried to get me to promise not to die.

It's almost a natural progression. Thanks to her big brother's "educational" efforts, she's been familiar with the concept of death for a while and more recently has been trying to grasp the finality of it with the passing of her great-grandmother. As she talks to my dad about the death of his mother, it's only natural that she'd start thinking about the death of her own mother.

After I promised to be very careful, I asked her why she was worried, expecting to have a conversation about age and illness.

As usual, I was wrong.

"I think the cops are going to come and kill you!" she said, with a dramatic shudder for effect.

What?

I mean, seriously: What???

Last time I looked, we didn't have a meth lab in the bathroom, aren't harboring fugitives and have no other reasons to expect the police to come bursting through the door, especially not with guns drawn. As far as I know, my daughter has never had anything but positive experiences with police officers, most recently with the officer who helped us after a car accident a few weeks ago.

The next morning, I called on the usual suspect her 11-year-old brother for an explanation. After he finished laughing, he said, "Oh, it's probably from 'The Simpsons.' They're always breaking down the door."

He stopped laughing when I told him I was taking "The Simpsons" off the TiVo season pass, but that doesn't really solve the problem.

Preschool shows are still nice: cute characters, bright colors, solid morals. Once they get beyond that, though, it seems like it's all downhill.

When I was my son's age, I thought that the worst thing that I could be was a Republican, a la Alex P. Keaton from "Family Ties." That isn't a reflection on Republicans I loved Michael J. Fox's character but it just happens to be the familial conflict I remember best from the sitcoms I was allowed to watch as a kid.

I remember thinking it was so refreshing when shows like "Married with Children," "Rosanne," and yes, "The Simpsons" introduced us to imperfect families that were more recognizable than the Cosby family. Now it seems like all the television families are dysfunctional, and it's not nearly as funny when you're a matriarch and your kid is trying to emulate some brat he watches on television.

It's really not funny when a 4-year-old misses the point completely and can't even figure out who the good guys and bad guys are, let alone what the moral of the episode was. I think we managed to convince her that police try to protect people from death rather than speed them toward it, but why take chances?

I don't see any point in channel surfing to try to find the kids a nice wholesome family to emulate. Right now it seems much more important to teach my daughter that life shouldn't imitate TV, no matter how well my son plays the rascally big brother.

Reach Treena Shapiro at tshapiro@honoluluadvertiser.com.