"Wilbur never forgot Charlotte. Although he loved her children and grandchildren dearly, none of the new spiders ever quite took her place in his heart. She was in a class by herself. It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both." -E.B. White
We're to that point in our relationship. The point where I use my theatre degree by reading chapter books to my son complete with character voices. I selected Charlotte's Web on account of the fact that--to a little boy--it's about spiders and pigs and rats and--to a grown woman--it's about friendship and everyday miracles and the circle of life.
I was a little hesitant. I know what comes at the end of the book. I know that Charlotte, the spider we all adore, dies alone at the fairgrounds. I wasn't sure how my four-year-old would handle that piece of information. Well, Charlotte died. The lump in my throat was so enormous I could barely continue. And I'd read it before. And I knew when I started reading it this time that Charlotte A. Cavatica would die. But my boy, he survived. With nothing more than a, "But Wilburt's okay right?" For three weeks we'd read a chapter every night of Charlotte's Web and for three weeks my son referred to the beloved story as The Wilburt Book.
"Wilbur's fine," I assured him. "And he's carrying Charlotte's babies back to the barn in his mouth." As long as "Wilburt" and the egg sac were alright, Garrett was fine. The next night we read the final chapter. Charlotte's babies were born. Most of them floated away. Three of them chose to stay and make their home in the barn. I read the final paragraph. "...It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both."
I closed the book, the one that is at least two decades old and has my maiden name written on the inside cover. I kissed my son's head and told him goodnight. "Wait!" He cried a full 24 hours after Charlotte had actually died. "What about the mom?"
"What do you mean?"
"The babies' mom?" His voice shook as his eyes filled with tears.
"Charlotte? Honey, Charlotte died. Remember? She died at the fairgrounds and Wilbur took the egg sac home?"
With lower lip quivering Garrett whispered quietly, "Why would she leave her babies? They need her. Doesn't she love them?"
It was a teachable moment on so many levels. I explained, scientifically, that spiders and bugs don't really need mommies. I told him that they can take care of themselves. Of course she loves them, I supplied, but we don't get to choose when we die. And then I decided to use Charlotte's death to have another discussion.
"Garrett," I smoothed the hair on his sweet head. "If mommy or daddy died it wouldn't mean that we don't love you. We love you so so much. If we died, God would want us up in Heaven with Him. I know you would be sad but we would be in such a special place and you would know that you'd get to see us again when you got there."
"Mom, I would visit you a lot if that happened."
"Honey, you can't just visit Heaven. The only way you can get there is by Jesus calling you home," I tried to explain.
"Well," he paused, "If you died, I would miss you so much that I would build the biggest ladder and I would climb up to you."
I left it at that.
It wasn't that I wanted him to think he could climb a ladder to Heaven. It was just that I couldn't speak. Holding my four-year-old and kissing his chubby cheek and picturing him trying to construct Jacob's ladder, well, to have spoken would have been to listen as my voice shattered into a thousand pieces. To have spoken would have been to ruin the heartbreaking sweetness of the moment.