Yesterday I served as one of many lunchroom monitors during first- and fifth-grade lunch so that our teachers could enjoy an outdoor teacher appreciation luncheon. (I should write a much longer post on the differences between lunch with 6-year-olds and lunch with 10-year-olds.)
I was summoned to a table full of Katie's classmates to open a water bottle. While there, I came under friendly interrogation.
Most of the children in Katie's first-grade class weren't in her kindergarten class. Most of them don't know her well. Still, I just assumed that they knew that Katie's daddy had died -- I guess because she discusses it openly.
Most of them, in fact, didn't know. She recently read one of her writing samples to a small group in class. She wrote about family; halfway through she writes, "My daddy died. He was so nice." (I've cleaned up the spelling. You can see the charming original work here.)
So, this table full of first-graders had some questions for me.
Child 1: "Mrs. Damm, is it true that Katie's daddy DIED?!"
Me: "Yes, sadly. He had an illness called cancer, and all the medicine we tried couldn't make him healthy and he died."
Child 2: "So, did he die in a big plane crash?"
Child 3: "Yeah, was it a plane crash?"
Me: "Um, no. He had something called cancer, and his body couldn't keep working."
Child 2: "So, was it like a really big fire?"
Me: "No, no fire. No crash. He was just very, very sick."
All around me there were looks of disappointment. Honestly, I couldn't tell if they were sad for Katie or sad that there wasn't a better story. I tried to mask my curious amusement with so many earnest faces staring at me.
Child 1, with huge eyes: "So, are you and Katie ALL ALONE?"
Me: "No. Katie has a big brother, Cooper. He's in the fifth grade. He's 10."
Child 1: "Oh. 10 is big."
And then I had to leave because Katie, at the next table, spilled chocolate milk on her leggings.
I was impressed that these sweet children waited to ask me instead of Katie. They wanted to understand, but they didn't know how to ask her. I have no doubt that Katie could have explained it herself, but I feel certain that her classmates didn't ask her out of concern for her feelings.