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Describing life and death to kids – humour involved

April 25, 2012
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I said that once I was done school I would have stories to tell (on Life in Finland (blog)’s page). I am relieved that I am finally done this latest course, but that is another story. This story isn’t about Finland per se, but about describing life and death to a bilingual kid – my kid, who speaks Finnish and English… and the humour that goes along with it.

Back in 2009, the Mr., my kid (who was a toddler at the time) and I had gone to Canada to visit family in the summer. We were with my mom and step-father and their house is situated in the countryside, perfect for the four dogs, two cats and flock of newly acquired ducks. Countryside also means plenty of wildlife: deer, foxes, bears, wolves, lots of species of birds and, snakes.

On this particular day I was out in the garden with my kid and was suddenly distracted by the sound of barking. Dusty, my mom’s adopted terrier mix was barking with a different intensity: aggressive and in a fighting mood. And through the fence I saw the object of Dusty’s punishment: a garter snake clearly on the defensive. I could tell right away this wasn’t going to end well for the snake.

I started to yell and then sprang into action. There was too much distance and a fence between me and Dusty. I felt like I was running in slow motion.

Then the barking stopped and the next thing I knew Dusty was shaking his head like he was playing with a toy, the snake limp in his mouth… <Damage!> I managed to shoo Dusty away and put him in the house. A moment later I looked down on the grass. The snake was dead.

My kid wasn’t far behind me.

The Mr. yelled from the garden, “You have some explaining to do!”

I grabbed a bucket and a stick with the intention of giving of Dusty’s victim a proper farewell out behind the garden. And then I proceeded to explain to my kid that when something is dead, it never moves again, ever. When something is dead, “it goes to the sky” (borrowing the direct translation from Finnish). And then the questions started in my kid’s Finglish kind of way, a mix of English words and all the verbs in Finnish… In the course of five minutes I must have repeated myself about 20 times… “Dead, it won’t move, won’t eat, won’t play with other snakes… ever again. The snake has gone to the sky. Dusty killed it.”

“The snake is dead,” she repeated, “Dusty killed it.”

I walked back to the garden and put the bucket down planning to deal with it later. I began to putter again.

Suddenly the snake sprang to life and 20 seconds later it wiggled over the lip of the bucket and wound its way into the grass. Dusty has simply shocked it, not killed it.

I stood there, lost for words…

I definitely had some explaining to do. The Mr. was nearly killing himself laughing on the other side of the garden.

So I proceeded to undead the snake explaining to my kid that sometimes things don’t go to the sky… She must have been so confused!

“The snake is NOT dead,” she said brightly, “Dusty didn’t kill it!”

And so goes the crooked circle of life – on that day anyways.

A garter snake at my mom's place, not likely the victim described in the story above...

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Kanerva permalink
    April 30, 2012 10:42 am

    Nice post. It’s difficult sometimes finding the right words (in either language!).

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