“I need a plot! What if I die?” this is the text I received Thanksgiving night from my 12 year old son, Levi. He’d finally left the table and was worriedly texting me from the next room.
It all happened because we were enjoying some post repast conversation at my mom’s house. One of the guests, a long time family friend, works at the Jewish cemetery in town. The discourse had shifted to her work and she was astounding us with stories about elderly people who simply refused to contemplate death, funerals and anything associated with burials. My brother-in-law, an uber-responsible physician, chimed in, “It’s just idiotic not to take care of these things ahead of time. Idiotic and irresponsible.”
Suddenly I look across the table and I see Levi, his head in his hands, prone for an anxiety attack. “Why don’t you go play with your cousins,” I suggest.
“No, mom. I want to stay with the adults,” he insists.
“Well, are you sure you can handle this conversation?” I ask gently.
“Yes,” he replies, “I’m sure. But mom, how much is a plot? Because I need to save up and get one.”
Conversation halted and everyone looked at Levi. Several of the adults started to roar with laughter.
“Levi,” I tried to explain, “You really don’t need to worry about that right now.”
“But I’m going to die,” he matter-of-factly refuted, “I don’t want to be stupid, or irresponsible.”
Suddenly I was transported into the celluloid world of my all time favorite Woody Allen movie, “Annie Hall.” I morphed into Alivie Singer’s kvetching Jewish mother and insisted my 9 year old son, Alivie, tell the psychiatrist why he was so depressed.”
Tell the Doctor why you’re depressed, Alvie. It’s something that he read.
The Universe is expanding.
The Universe is expanding?
Well, the Universe is everything, and if it’s expanding, someday it will break apart and that would be the end of everything.
He stopped doing his homework.
What’s the point?
Alvie’s mother: What has the Universe got to do with it? You’re here in Brooklyn. Brooklyn is not expanding!”
It wont be expanding for billions of years, Alvie. And we’ve gotta try to enjoy ourselves while we’re here.
Why is it that some kids burden themselves with thoughts like these while others are content to stuff themselves silly with turkey, corn and mashed potatoes? I so want to be one of those care-free people who raises easy, playful youngsters who throw spitballs into the unsuspecting heads of classmates and giggle gleefully when the teacher accidentally strings together words like “under” and “where.” But alas, that’s just not who we are.
I actually remember my first 100% sleepless night. I was about my son’s age and was convinced that the angel of death was coming that very night to take me away. My poor father tried everything to get me to go to sleep. Finally, with a tear in his eye, he implored, “Please, Debbie, just close your eyes. I’ll stand guard all night and I promise not to open the door if he comes. Just go to sleep!”
I guess the sad thing here is that this whole experience just confirms what I’ve known all along; that children really are just mirrors that showcase every flaw, fault and foible of our own misguided psyches. Genetics, my friends, are inescapable.
It’s all kind of depressing. In fact, sometimes I find it so disheartening that I relate completely to Annie Hall’s brother, Duane, (played eerily by a young Christopher Walken), who behind the wheel of his automobile,
confesses to Alvie while speeding down a darkened freeway, “Sometimes I have a sudden impulse to turn the wheel quickly, head-on into an oncoming car. I anticipate the explosion, the sound of shattering glass, the…flames rising out of the flowing gasoline.”
Alvie is stumped for a reply but spits out, “Right,” just as they pull to a stop, “Well, I have to — I have to go now, Duane, because I’m due back on the planet earth.”
Sometimes it sucks to be me. I desperately want to see myself as Audrie Hepburn in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” or Meryl Streep in “Out of Africa.” But no matter how hard I try, my true alter ego wont let me forget that I’m really just a female version of a Jewish, neurotic, anxiety-ridden Alvie Singer.