Important Things

Barbara L. Greenberg

For years the children whimpered and tugged. “Tell us, tell us.”
You promised to tell the children some other time, later, when they were old enough.
Now the children stand eye to eye with you and show you their teeth. “Tell us.”
"Tell you what?” you ask, ingenuous.
"Tell us The Important Things.”
You tell the children there are six continents and five oceans, or vice versa.
You tell your children the little you know about sex. Your children tell you there are better words for what you choose to call The Married Embrace.
You tell your children to be true to themselves. They say they are true to themselves. You tell them they are lying, you always know when they are lying. They tell you you’re crazy. You tell them to mind their manners. They think you mean it as a joke, they laugh.
There are tears in your eyes. You tell the children the dawn will follow the dark, the tide will come in. the grass will be renewed, every dog will have its day. You tell them the story of The Littlest Soldier whose right arm, which he sacrificed while fighting for a noble cause, grew back again.
You say that if there were no Evil we wouldn’t have the satisfaction of choosing The Good. And if there were no pain, you say, we’d never know our greatest joy, relief from pain.
You offer to bake a cake for the children, a fudge cake with chocolate frosting, their favorite. "Tell us,” say the children.
You say to your children, “I am going to die.”
You tell your children that they, too, are going to die. They already knew it.
You can’t think of anything else to tell the children. You say you’re sorry. You are sorry. But the children have had enough of your excuses.
"A promise is a promise,” say the children.
They’ll give you one more chance to tell them of your own accord. If you don’t, they’ll have to resort to torture.