Modern Love: In Which A Little Boy Teaches Us About Mortality

Illustration for article titled Modern Love: In Which A Little Boy Teaches Us About Mortality

Enough with the bad divorces, sensational splits and bloody brawls: let's start 2010 with a story in which adults behave with kindness and maturity and think of the kids. For a change:

I speak of Victoria Rosner's lovely "Modern Love" essay, in which she allows a terminally-ill ex-husband, who'd abandoned her when their son was born, to reconnect with the toddler in the few months he has remaining. It's not an easy decision; Rosner worries about the effect that gaining a father, only to lose him, will have on her little boy. Then too, there is the very natural anger and resentment: as one of Rosner's anti-reconciliation friends puts it, "How could you let him back after what he did? He doesn't deserve to know his son." And it's not just letting him back into Judah's life: as her ex writes, "I don't have money for New York hotels, so I'd like to stay with you or your mother when I'm in town." (To this, lesser mortals like, say, me, might have drawn a line or pointed said ex to the nearest YMCA.)

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But Rosner does it, and the two, father and son, form a bond. And then he dies, but not before her ex-husband has said, "He is the most incredible child that has ever lived. Do you realize that?" It's clear she's given him a gift, and that her son, despite the pain of loss, has purely positive memories of his dad. Rosner doesn't dwell on her own resentments, but it's hard to believe that it's not a difficult period for a mother who's been abandoned and dealt with the day-to-day responsibilities of raising a baby alone. But as she says, "He walked away empty-handed, while I had Judah." And given how philosophical the experience leaves Judah, it's easy to believe she made the right decision. She ends the essay with an exchange between her son and another small child who's distressed at the thought that Judah's father has died.

Judah put his hand on the other child's shoulder. "Yes, but it's O.K.," he said. "I'm alive. You're alive. Want to play?"

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Could I Forgive Him One Last Time? [NY Times]

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DISCUSSION

I'm glad she has photos, toys, and landmarks to share with her son. Even though she had the burden of telling her kid that his Daddy died, the memories will congeal into just a few small moments very soon.

It's a weird thing - around age five, kids start to forget massive amounts of stuff that they did/happened to them in their first few years. A three year old might be able to tell you all about their second birthday party, but when that same child is five, they'll have no recollection at all.

It's freaky. By five years old my daughter had no recollection of the videos and books she adored when she was two and three. She couldn't recognize characters or stories she had seen literally hundreds of times. It's a natural phenomenon, though, having to do with early childhood brain wiring.

So...Judah will probably have a couple of brief memories of his dad, and his mom will be able to tell the rest of the story to him with all the love and tenderness that is apparently abundant within her.