This post is part of our month-long series featuring different ways that parents of various religions have talked to their kids about God.
It was a sparkling Fall morning, blue sky scratched with orange, red, yellow. I was taking my daughter Lucy, then 5 years old, to a birthday party. We drove by a Christian cemetery, one she saw every single morning on her way to school. She had asked my husband about “that place” before.
“Mommy, what is that place for?”
I played dumb, changed the radio station.
“What place, Lucy?”
She pointed at the window to her left. “That place.”
“Oh, that’s the cemetery.” I repeated her Dad’s perfectly lovely answer: “This is where people come to remember somebody who died.”
Not untrue, but not the full story either. This cemetery is old and has been crowded by suburbia, so mourners can be spotted by people in their cars, going about their mundane business.
“But the statues, what are they?” she continued.
“Well, some are Saints, some are Angels,” I replied, skirting the issue of the gravestones and what they cover.
“Mommy, how come we didn’t get to pick a statue for Leah?”
Leah is her younger sister, who was stillborn. We decided to cremate her, and spread her ashes in a beautiful park, where we also planted a tree in her memory. The traffic light turned red and I contemplated telling Lucy the truth about bodies, caskets, dust to dust. But I didn’t. I was not prepared to address life and death questions on our way to glow-in-the-dark bowling.
“Well, Lucy, we are Jewish and we don’t put statues on our graves. We chose to have a tree for Leah instead of a grave. Don’t you like visiting her tree?” She nodded her head in the back seat.
“But the angel statues are pretty. Are angels real, Mommy?”
“Well, some people think that they are, but we don’t know for sure,” I try.
“You mean, like mermaids?”
“No, mermaids are definitely not real. More like God. Some people believe in God, others don’t. Some of us are just not sure.”
“What do we believe, Mommy?”
The pressure to give a good answer, a comforting one, sat heavy on my shoulders. I chose to tell her what I know: “We, Jews, believe in One God. Sometimes I believe that, sometimes I just don’t know.” I told her that it’s OK to be unsure, and she is free to decide for herself.
“Oh, Mommy, but I know there is a God. Because I can feel it.”
The certainty of her opinion took me by surprise. We send her to Hebrew school, we go to synagogue on holidays, but God is not a part of our family’s day-to-day conversations. I was a little envious of her knowingness, her quiet, confident belief. Until…
“And I know that mermaids are real too!”
To read all of the post in this series, click here.