Stages of grief. There are the ones famously described by Elisabeth Kubler Ross. But there are other, lesser known types as well. Those, for example, experienced by a four-year-old girl who has to return a favorite bird book to the library. A book she has had out for two-and-a-half months. A book that can no longer be renewed and is many days overdue.
These stages look something like this:
Strong-arming parent into buying book on Amazon.
Whereas Kubler Ross’s stages can take months, we went through all of ours in a couple of hours.
First, MJ lost it with the babysitter. I wasn’t there for that part. But I heard about it.
“MJ was a little tender tonight,” the sitter told me when I got home from work. “She realized her bird books had gone back to the library,” here she gave me a meaningful look.
I winced. “Oh, right.”
“So she had nothing to read at dinner…”
“But we have other books.”
She nodded sadly. “She wanted the library ones.”
I felt myself growing defensive. “I told her. She knew they had to go back.”
“I know. She was just really upset.”
Shit. “Like, freakout level?
She nodded, “Pretty much.”
After she’d left–I paid her extra for her trouble–I went into the bedroom. MJ was putting her stuffed owls to sleep under a cloth napkin. She barely looked up when I came in.
“Hey,” I said gently, putting on my best horse-whisperer-near-skittish-colt voice.
“Hi, Mama.” she still didn’t turn around.
“Hear you had a tough night tonight.”
She looked up at me. Her face was streaked with dried tears, long salt stains on each cheek. “My bird books are gone.”
I knelt beside her. “I know. Remember we talked about this? We’d had them out for nine weeks. We had no more renewals.”
The tears immediately recommenced, tracing new paths over their predecessors. “I want ‘Look Up.’ I miss it. And the other one. ‘Birds!'”
“Which ‘Birds?” We had two–”
“The one with Blood Lust!” she sobbed. “I want my Blood Lust book!”
The situation devolved from there. She wanted the books back. NOW. Nothing could console her. I tried telling her calmly that it couldn’t happen at night–the library was closed. Big mistake. Reality was not of interest to her. We were at an emotional Defcon five. I could almost hear the sirens.
Opting for a different tack, I told her we could go tomorrow and try to take them out again. This worked for a second. But then I saw her face change.
“W-what if they’re gone?” she sobbed, voice quavering wildly.
“Well, they…might be. But–”
“They’re going to be gone!” she wailed. “My books! Another kid will get them!”
“Oh, honey,” I crooned. “I know. This is hard.”
Aimless sympathy was not what she was looking for. “I need to own them,” she screamed. “I want them always here!”
Ah. So this is was her endgame. Possession. I got it, but I wasn’t sure it was a good idea. After all, I couldn’t go buying her every library book she got attached to. We’d end up looking like Strand Bookstore. And being just as broke.
I told her as much.
“Then I’ll buy them!” she cried.
Really. I decided to call her bluff. “Well, you have loads of money in your piggy bank. Do you want to use some of it for this?
An upturned wet face, desperate with hope: “Yes!”
“It may not be cheap…”
“I don’t care. I have, like, ten hundreds of money.”
So, for the next half an hour, MJ and I traipsed around the house gathering cash from her various stashes. Most of it was coins, but she had some dollars, too. Adding it up as we went, we piled it all into a paper bag she occasionally uses as a purse. Once we’d gotten to $14–an amount I thought fair for two kid’s hardcover books–we went to my laptop and ordered.
“Fortunately for you,” I said, as I clicked the final button, “we have Amazon Prime.”
“What’s that?” asked Myra-Jean.
“Today’s Friday. You’ll have your first book on Sunday.”
She smiled beatifically and cuddled into my chest. “I’m ready for bed now.”
As promised,”Look Up!” came today. Myra-Jean was predictably thrilled. We read it this afternoon, at dinner, in the bathroom, and before bed. Tomorrow, God willing, we’ll receive “Blood Lust.” It’s coming from a third-party seller because–big surprise!–it’s out of print. Probably banned in some states. Used as kindling. Sold for mulch.
As for the money? It’s the first MJ has ever paid for anything. She had a hard time parting with it, in the end. But I think it’s important for her to understand that sometimes you have to buy the things you want. Not every day is Christmas. So I’m not giving it back.
I can’t, however, bring myself to put it in my wallet, either. I don’t want it. It’s her precious loot, after all. Meaning far more to her than it ever could to me.
So there the bag sits on our kitchen counter. A reminder of a sad night, a cycle of grief, a problem solved. Some good memories, some bad…
And some just out of print.