Pondering Existence with Tolkien

Yesterday, I was walking into Trader Joe’s with my sons when Tolkien said to me, “Mom, how does it feel to be 38 years old and know that you used to be four?”

Missing this opportunity to marvel at my son’s brilliant existential curiosity, I went straight to the most important part of his question. “I’m not 38,” I said.

He looked at me. “Oh. Well, how old are you then?” he asked.

“I’m 36.”

“Okay, well how does it feel to be 36 years old and know that you used to be four?”

I considered the question for a second and said, “Yeah. I guess it feels pretty weird. I think about that kind of thing sometimes.”

It wasn’t until later that I really considered Tolkien’s question and truly understood the missed opportunity. I don’t know why my children – perhaps all children – want to express their philosophical quandaries at the most inopportune times, but I really want to be ready for it next time it happens. Even if I’m on my way into Trader Joe’s to finish up my last bit of shopping before I can finally go home and…what? Play Scrabble online? Put away groceries?  Even then, I hope that I can take a moment to focus on my child’s question and answer more thoroughly. I hope I can try harder to recognize what a big, strange universe this must be to him and how nebulous and awe-inspiring the prospect of aging must be. I want to actively listen and ask him questions of my own. How do you feel about being ten years old knowing that one day you’ll be 36? What are you looking forward to most? And, mostly, I want to assure him that I haven’t forgotten what it’s like to be four and that aging is less strange and overwhelming on this end of it.

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