Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Our Charlotte

I have a story to tell, and I hope you will share it with us. Many of you have been with our little blog since the beginning. You remember the early days of Baby Josie - back when she was just a wee little thing. Back when the thought of a four year old Josie felt like light-years away.  Recently, our sweet baby Josie had to experience  true loss for the first time, and it was really hard on all of us.  This is the story of Josie's first lesson with grief and death. And it is a real window into the kind of child Josie is and likely always will be.

Looking out the kitchen window at Charlotte, Josie looking in from the porch

Near the beginning of July, a little spider built a web in our kitchen window. It was right in the window over our kitchen sink - the spot we all see countless times in the course of each day.  For probably a week, she pretty much went unnoticed. But, it wasn't long before I named her Charlotte and we started checking on "Charlotte's Web" every morning (as soon as I googled her to make sure she wasn't some deadly toxic biting thing and found out she was a simple, harmless garden orb spider).  She was teeny tiny but really fun to watch. Every single morning she would start the day by building a new web. She would catch insects and we would cheer her on as she sprang into action and filled her little spider tummy.  She had a male visitor (who met a tragic end) and it soon became obvious she was full of eggs. Charlotte grew and grew and we became more and more fond of her. Josie couldn't wait to introduce her to visitors and we all said good morning to her each day. Really, she became the perfect pet. And she was really fascinating.

As a child, I loved the movie and book Charlotte's Web, but its themes have always haunted me. I knew what was coming for our own Charlotte and did a little internet research to confirm our suspicions. We found out Charlotte would lay her eggs and die sometime before the first frost. Every single bit of me wanted to shelter Josie from the whole thing. I really got pretty mad at myself for doing everything I did to foster that attachment in the first place. It was a spider - just a spider in the window - but I knew it was going to devastate our tender-hearted Josie for her to disappear.

As parents, we have always valued being as honest as we can with our kids and age four seemed like a developmentally-appropriate time to tell her the truth about Charlotte. That said, we didn't just say "hey there kid-o, don't get attached, she's a goner!"  Instead, we gently eased her into the idea. And even when we told her that she would die when it got cold, Josie instantly volunteered a better alternative - demanding that Charlotte would instead just crawl away from her web, dig herself a hole & stay warm all winter until it was time to come back and live in our window in the spring. That sounded better to all of us, so we didn't correct her.

Oddly enough, on the EXACT day that Charlotte left, Josie asked me what day I thought it would happen. I explained to her that we didn't know when but that it would probably be soon. I explained that Charlotte would know when it was time for her to decide what was next.  That night, I was turning off the lights before bed and I looked into her web over the sink and it was empty.  I couldn't believe my reaction, but it hit me right in my gut. I even teared up as I said to Lou "Charlotte is missing!"  Lou explained that maybe she just left her web for the night. She had done this before, so she would probably be back in the morning. But she wasn't. Crazy enough, that next morning I went out on the porch and in the yard and actually looked for her. (I don't know if my plan was to have a chat with her and convince her to come back or what, but it seemed like the right thing to do.)  By that night, it was obvious she wasn't coming back. And the next morning, a Sunday, we decided to point out Charlotte's absence to Josie in a "controlled environment" while Beatrice was napping so we could help her move through it with our full attention.

Charlotte had left two egg sacs in the corner of the window, so we started with that. "Hey Josie, we have SUCH exciting news! Charlotte left two egg sacs...two! Aren't we so lucky? She must have really liked it in our window because she wanted all of her babies to be born here."  She kind of fell for it at first. We looked at the eggs and she was excited. But, then it started to sink in and it wasn't long before the tears came. Trying to explain away the obvious, Josie suggested that Charlotte must have just gotten on a Spider Plane and gone to the Spider Beach for the winter. "Yep, you are probably right Josie!" We tried to stick with that. But, it hit her. And, I kid you not, my sweet baby girl called out with huge tears in her eyes "Charlotte, come back! Don't go Charlotte! Charlotte No! I don't want her to be gone. I love her." And all three of us were crying.

Even though we miss Charlotte, my tears came more from the realization that life is going to increasingly get more "real" for Josie and we can't protect her from that forever.

So, like the movie that broke my heart as a kid, we will all wait like Wilbur for those eggs to hatch and we will hope that some of them will stay. (These baby spiders will float away on little silken strings just like Charlotte's babies in the movie.)  And, just maybe Josie was right and Charlotte is sleeping in a warm little hole she dug in our yard or will show up again after her beach vacation in the spring.

I don't think she's ready for the movie just yet. Or maybe I'm not ready for her to watch it (among other things, I am not quite ready to explain the whole bacon thing). And I am pretty sure, when the movie gets to this scene, it would be too hard to resist the urge to hit fast-forward. But as much as I'd like to just skip over all the stuff that will be hard and heart-breaking and "real" for our kids as they grow up, there's just no protection from it. (I've gotten another lesson recently on this, but more on that later...)

If you really want to torture yourself, you can click here for the link to the video where poor Charlotte actually sings this song and dies. I couldn't risk the possibility that Josie would want me to play it for her on one of the occasions when she is looking at the blog. Grab the tissues and consider yourself warned...