“So can we talk about why there are all these animals on the wall?” asked my four year old daughter sweetly.
This was her new thing. “Can we talk about it.”
We were hanging out at Rancho Nicasio, a roadhouse style bar / restaurant in Western Marin, and there were in fact all kinds of animal trophies on the walls: boars, elk, deer, and even a black bear. They were real, and stared solemnly at us from all sides.
“Well, it’s kind of decoration,” I said. The animals died and people stuffed them and put them on the wall to decorate the restaurant.”
The obvious next question.
“Well…. how did they die, Papi?”
“Well, lots of reasons. Maybe they got sick, maybe they got old, or…. “
“Maybe people shot them!” exclaimed my daughter.
“Yeah, maybe hunters shot them.”
I felt like I should make a fatherly point here, so I continued...
“I don’t really like that - I don’t really like shooting animals for decoration.”
My daughter took this all in. The bear looks scary, but the deer did not.
She pointed to the skull of a long horn steer. “Is that one real too?”
“Yeah, it’s just the skull. The skin and face is gone now.”
“Why is the face gone?”
“Well after an animal dies, the skin goes away and just leaves the bones. There’s something called taxidermy where people can help the skin and face stay too - like with the deer and the bear.”
“... maybe this is like heaven for the animals!” shouted my daughter.
“Well, maybe…. “ I said.
And then I said something I shouldn't have.
“But when I die, I don’t want to be on the wall for decoration, ok?”
Why put her in that spot? Why make her think about this stuff? What am I doing talking about taxidermy and hunting ethics and death with my four year old anyway? Can't we stick to princesses and legos?
My daughter paused, looked at me and broke my heart:
“Papi, I want to die the same day as you because I don’t want to be here without you.”
(pain in my soul, suddenly dusty in the eyes)
The thing with parenting, is that they just drop bombs on you all the time.
I am not equipped, and I am not worthy.