The day I took the kids over to meet the new neighbors was the day I learned never to assume anything when it comes to Veronica.
We had been living in our first house for a few months when we heard that a family with a four-year-old son named Sam was moving in across the street. Four-year-old Veronica was ecstatic.
When she wasn’t in preschool three mornings a week, she and the cat could be found perched on the back of the sofa in the living room staring through the big picture window waiting for the moving van to arrive.
I had told Veronica that we needed to give Sam’s family a few days to get settled before going over to welcome them to the neighborhood.
Just before they moved in Sam’s father passed away. Because she has always had an innocent, inquisitive nature, Richard and I talked about whether or not to tell Veronica about Sam’s dad.
We decided it wasn’t necessary. Since I’d planned to bring the kids over in the afternoon while Richard was working, we figured she’d think Sam’s father was at work, too.
Boy, were we wrong…and oh, so stupid.
I held Veronica’s hand on one side while balancing 8-month-old Lucas and a tray of brownies on the other as we walked across the street.
I rang the bell and a woman with a big smile on her face came to the door. She invited us in and told us her name was Carol. I explained who we were and that Veronica was very excited to meet Sam.
Carol said that Sam was playing in his room, so we all went upstairs to meet him. I sat Lucas on the floor near Sam, and Veronica plopped down next to him. Sam told them all about his room and let them play with his toys.
I took that opportunity to whisper my condolences to Carol who smiled sweetly at me and thanked me for coming over. She was especially happy that I’d brought my kids to play with Sam.
I had a feeling that Carol and I would become good friends.
And that’s the moment Veronica looked up at Carol and asked, “Where’s Sam’s Dad?”
Maybe Carol and I weren’t going to become good friends after all.
Oh, the dread. Oh, the panic. Oh, the desire to be able to disappear or go back in time. I looked at Carol and mouthed the words, “I’m so sorry!” Carol mouthed back, “It’s ok,” and then turned to Veronica and said, “Sam’s father died.”
“Oh,” Veronica said. “Sorry.”
I was proud of Veronica for handling the situation so well. “Ok, good,” I thought to myself, “crisis averted.”
Not so much.
Veronica looked up at Carol again and asked, “Well, how did he die?”
“This is not happening,” I said to myself. Oh, but it was.
“He had a heart attack,” Carol said very matter of factly. Carol looked at me, smiled, and nodded her head as if to let me know she was okay with Veronica’s questions. She was obviously a very cool, calm, laid-back person.
Carol seemed to recognize that Veronica was just gathering information. She was trying to make sense of the world, which has always been a wonderful attribute.
But, under the circumstances, I found it hard to stay calm because one never knew what might come out of little Veronica’s mouth. Once she got going she was like a 3-foot tall attorney with pigtails.
Veronica looked up at Carol again.
“Did the heart attack hurt?”
Our visit had officially gone down the crapper.
Even though Carol would have probably been able to comfortably handle Veronica’s question – – and all of its follow-ups – – and Sam seemed more interested in his toys than anything Veronica had asked, I couldn’t take it anymore. I decided that the kids and I should leave after having done enough damage for the rest of our lives or, at least, until one family or the other moved.
I told Veronica it was time for Lucas’s nap as I picked him up and gently took her hand. I thanked Carol for having us over and Sam for sharing his toys. Veronica said goodbye to Sam who got up and walked down the stairs with Carol and me.
“Okay,” I thought to myself when we reached the front door, “that could have gone much worse.”
And then it did.
My fingers were within an inch of the handle of the screen door. We were so close to making our escape. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Veronica turn around to look at Carol. I reached a little further and grasped the door handle, but I was too late. Before I could push the door open Veronica’s mouth was open.
As I stood there holding Lucas, Veronica said to Carol, “I bet Sam’s father didn’t take very good care of himself if he had a heart attack! Was he fat? Did he smoke? I bet he ate crap all the time and never exercised!”
I think I lost consciousness there for a second, but I was still upright and hadn’t dropped Lucas.
How did Veronica even know about this stuff? It wasn’t as if we sat around the dinner table with our young children discussing war and coronary artery disease.
I gripped Veronica’s hand a little tighter and apologized to Carol who had walked outside with us, probably making sure we were actually leaving. Somehow, she was still smiling.
“Stay calm,” I told myself as we began walking, very quickly, across their lawn. “We’re almost home,” I told myself. “You can do this.”
Little did I know that little Veronica wasn’t finished.
“Well, ya know, Sam needs a father,” she said over her shoulder to Carol as she trotted to keep up with me. “I think all kids should have fathers. You should get married to someone else. Are you dating anyone? Maybe my parents know someone you could marry…”
I began sprinting to the best of my ability while holding a baby in one arm and dragging a toddler with the other. I shouted apologies to Carol over my shoulder as I looked both ways and then crossed the street.
Thankfully we made it home before Veronica could ask any more questions or offer up any more marriage advice.
I put Lucas down for a nap and placed Veronica in front of the TV so I could lie down for a few minutes before making dinner.
A few years later Carol met a wonderful man and invited all four of us to their wedding which took place in her backyard. He adopted Sam and in time they had a baby girl. At the wedding Veronica had a very pleased look on her face. Everything had gone according to her plan.