I lost Daddy points today. Yep. I messed up and grossly underestimated my daughter's reaction this afternoon.
It all started with my ex calling me earlier in the day to let me know she had taken one of her cats to the Vet and had the cat put down. Enlarged liver, issues with the cat's nervous system, etc. It was a lost cause for an old cat (15 years), and through her own tears she let me know about the situation. We discussed how to best let the kids know, and I decided I would tell them when I picked them up from school. The reason for the decision was based on the fact Natalie had seen the cat in the morning and had alerted her mother to the cat's condition. The cat was no longer able to stand on its own, and Natalie suggested her mother take the cat to the Vet's office. I just knew Natalie would inquire about the cat's condition when I picked her up.
Sure enough, 4:00 rolled around as I was at the school to take them home. As I walked through the door of the after-school area, I saw Natalie spring to her feet, run to me, and ask me if I had spoken to her mom about the cat. "Did momma tell you about Figaro? Is she okay?" I told her we'd talk outside in the car, reached into my pockets and pulled out a pack of Skittles I'd picked up as a pre-emptive, soften-the-blow measure.
We walked to the car and talked about school and the new play set they'd just installed in near the after-school area. We settled into our truck and I delicately broke the news to the kids. I don't know why I thought it would be accepted with a casual sense of "Oh. That's sad. Oh well, it's for the best." Instead, what followed was me having to get out of my seat and climb into the backseat with Natalie to console her. She was devastated. She was inconsolable. She was bawling so hard I had to verbally direct her to breathe. "Nice going" I thought to myself. Ugh! What a totally wrong approach to take with Natalie regarding the subject. I should have known better.
I was struggling to try and explain it all to her. I was digging back in my memories of the last time I watched 'The Lion King', scrambling to paraphrase as my own the whole circle of life explanation given to little Simba by his father. I was worried about Natalie's tears mixing with the skittles in her hands and leaving a rainbow mosaic all over my seats. It was just bad all the way around.
I was also surprised by my son's stoic reaction to all of it. He didn't cry. He didn't look sad. He just was. It was almost spooky the way he simply looked at me then looked back at his skittles and proceeded to eat them without hesitation or reservation. His reaction was the exact opposite of Natalie's, and his stoicism rivaled that of the legendary Tom Landry.
We drove home and Natalie settled down. She spoke to her mom on the phone and by the time we go to the house she was all better. Still, I can't help but second-guess myself and think about how I should have better addresses the situation. They still have one cat at their mom's place, and we have four. I know I will face this challenge again and again in the years to come, and I hope I do a better job at it. Time to pull out those old Disney DVD's.