Last night, as is our tradition, I lay between my children before they went to sleep. Prima (aged 6) and Secundo (aged 5) sleep together in the bedroom I grew up in. My parents’ house has been in a kind of stasis since my brother and I left. The only thing that has changed is the unhealthy proliferation of clutter and photos of their grandchildren, making the house look like a shrine to the next generation that was designed by a bag lady.
Each night the children and I lie on my old bed and we stare at the ceiling together. It is covered in glow-in-the-dark stars given to me in 1987 by my school friend Kate. Kate and I were going to be astronauts when we grew up.
The children and I talk about the constellations and the planets and it is our quiet cuddle time together when, in the dark, questions about outer space and concerns about life are expressed.
Last night my son, obsessed with death, asked me “Will the Sun die?” I naturally answered honestly, “Yes, in several billion years, the Sun will die.”
Secundo had a follow-up question of course: “What will happen to the Earth, will we have an ice age like the movie?”
Here I was on shaky astronomical ground and I should have just gone with a strong “I don’t know darling, would you like a chocolate biscuit?” Instead, I mused out loud: “I think the Sun will explode and create a blackhole that sucks everything around it inside.” I knew as soon as I had said it, that I had made a terrible, terrible mistake.
Two small, panicked children started talking at once: “Will we get sucked into the black hole? What happens inside the blackhole? Are we going to die?”
By now, I was panicking realising that the children had just experienced a rush of fear-driven adrenaline more powerful than the sugar-high from an entire packet of chocolate biscuits.
Ignoring the voice in my head that was screaming “Eject, eject, eject. Stop talking, stop talking.” I kept going.
“Um, when things get sucked into the blackhole they get compressed or crushed.”
“Mummy, mummy, mummy, are we going to get crushed? Will it hurt? Are we going to die?”
“Um, no we are definitely not going to die. I promise.”
“Mummy is that because we are all going to be reborn?” At this point I figured that either my son was the next Dalai Lama or my father had been quietly indoctrinating the children in the finer points of Hinduism.
“Yes darling, we are all going to be reborn. That’s it.”
Secundo, not realising that rebirth is a bad thing in the Hindu religion, far worse than death by compression, followed up with: “When we are reborn will we remember where we bought our toys?”
“I suppose so, why?”
“So that we can buy them again of course.”
Secundo was able to sleep after a chocolate biscuit and safe in the knowledge that in his next life he would be reunited with his toys. My daughter Prima was up repeatedly over the next few hours complaining of nightmares about being crushed in a blackhole.
This morning I did some research, and I found out something I’m glad I didn’t know last night. Turns out that when the Sun dies, we won’t be sucked into a blackhole, we will be incinerated.