"Isn't he a cute little guy?" James asks me, holding up a twig on which a small, black bug is perched.
"Uh-huh," I answer distractedly, preoccupied with something else.
"Do you think I should let him go?"
Ten minutes later it's time to go fetch Jewel from school, but James is sitting on the couch crying softly to himself.
"What's wrong? C'mon, we need to go," I say, the classic combination of hey-I'm-here-for-you but-we-really-gotta-go-now.
James sniffs. Then he bursts into full sobs.
I do not have time for this right now.
"OK, James, what is wrong? Be quick."
"That bug was my very first bug friend and I had to let him go! I'll never see him again!"
"Yes, well, if you kept him in that little container any longer, he'd probably die. So you let him go outside so he could live."
"But he doesn't have any family!" James wails.
I glance at the clock. It's a good thing I arrive early to everything with compulsive regularity. I have a couple minutes to spare.
"You didn't have to let him go," I say, drawing James into my arms.
"You said I did!"
He thought me saying 'sure hon' was a command? Oops.
"Well...," I'm drawing blanks here. "Sometimes when you love something you have to let it go!"
Did I really just Oprah-ize this moment with cheesy banality?
"What does that mean?" James asks.
"Um..well, let's go get in the car and we'll talk about it."
When we arrive home, James repeats his tale of woe to Jewel and begins crying all over again. That's when I realize I have underestimated his sense of loss.
For James, this is true grief. Thinking back, I vaguely recall him chatting with his bug, asking his bug questions, sifting the leaves around in the little container to make it more comfortable for bug.
How could I have so blithely assumed he wanted to let the bug go?
Later that evening, after the baths/prayers/bed routine, The Mateo told me that James had begun crying again when repeating the story to Daddy.
"It was the hardest thing I've ever had to do!" James had said.
With that sinking feeling of remorse, I realized that in my distraction, hurry and preoccupation with other things, I had unwittingly caused my child grief.
Just because I am a stay-at-home mom doesn't mean I'm always there for them. If I would have just taken a moment to focus on James, to concentrate on what he was asking me, to stop what I was doing and truly listen to him---this whole thing could have been avoided.
This afternoon, I'm taking the boys on a bug hunt. And this time, I'm bringing my whole self along.