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Even kids sometimes wonder who their ancestors are and what do they look like?
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A recent trip to the urgent care doctor's office got my daughter thinking about life, death and family history. - photo by Amy Choate-Nielsen
There was a time when very little in this world worried me.

I mean, some things worried me, like pollution, spiders, my parents health, and finding a job and a husband. But for the most part, my worries were at a distance one step removed, because I didnt have much to lose.

That changed when I got married, and I noticed one night how my heart clenched with fear at the thought of my husband driving home on his regular commute. I felt vulnerable and exposed. I had something to lose, and I didnt want to lose it.

The feeling amplified every time I got pregnant. Every time one of my babies was born, I felt my heart opening more, becoming more and more vulnerable and exposed, like having nerves on the outside of my body. The difference is those nerves are attached to little people who walk around and bump into things and get sick and dont realize their every action is connected to the neurons, axons and dendrites in my body.

For the most part, I think my children are oblivious to the frailties of life blissfully living in the freedom of a worry-free innocence but sometimes I am surprised by their perception.

My daughter recently became ill to the point where she had trouble walking and standing. I became so concerned I rushed her to the closest urgent care office and carried her in. We got there 20 minutes before closing time, and the waiting room was mostly empty.

I plopped my daughter into a chair while I signed her in, and she hardly moved an inch. She barely spoke above a whisper, and kept saying the same things over and over.

I dont want a shot, she mouthed to me when I said I couldnt hear what she was saying, as though using no sound at all would help me understand.

She didnt want to be there. She hated that I made her go, and she was worried about wearing her pajama pants in public. She asked me over and over about the shots, and she kept saying she was fine, that she felt better, even though she clearly did not look fine nor better.

Once the doctor looked at her, she prescribed rest and ibuprofen, and sent us on our way, much to my daughters relief. Some of the tension eased out of her shoulders as I carried her back to the car and she said, Going to the hospital wasnt so bad. And now we can go home and I can go to bed.

I didnt realize the depths of her fears until the next day, when she and I were talking after dinner. Everyone else had already started brushing their teeth and we were alone.

When Grandma and Grandpa die, I am going to see them again? she said out of the blue.

Yes, but thats not going to happen for a while, I said.

I dont want to die, she said lightly, and I realized that was the source of her fear at the doctors office the day before. She didnt want to be there because she didnt want to be sick. And she didnt want to be sick because she didnt want to die.

She thought she was going to die.

I dont want you to die, either, I said. But youre OK right now.

Well what does my great-grandfather look like? she said, in the fragmented way kids carry on conversations.

What do you mean? I asked her.

Well, if I see my great-grandfather when I die, how will I know how to find him if I dont know what he looks like? How will he know how to find me?

I told her I didnt really know what her great-grandfathers looked like, either, because I didnt really know them. But thats not exactly true. I have memories of my mothers father giving me Twinkies. I remember feeling a warmth and kindness around him. And I have pored over pictures of my fathers father. If he looked now as he did later in life, with my dads nose, a receding hairline, portly belly and suspenders, I could pick him out of a crowd.

But now I know I need to teach my children about them. My kids are more perceptive than I sometimes understand, and I need to tell them the stories about the people they expect to see on the other side. They might not remember all I say, and my information might be third-hand, but I want them to know their relatives were real.

They dont need to worry.