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Object Impermanence

I well remember those months, now long past, when Matt and I awaited Simon’s attainment of object permanence. When, we wondered, could we hide a toy behind our back and have Simon search for it? When would he grasp the notion that things exist even when you can’t see them? According to Piaget, this developmental step is crucial in infant development and a prerequisite for much that follows.

Now, we wonder when Simon will attain object impermanence, a milestone I don’t find in any of my books. Understandably, he is having a hard time understanding that some things no longer exist and that other items did not exist at one time.

I say “understandably” because in all honesty Matt and I are not so good at object impermanence ourselves. A few days after Percival died, Matt confessed that he wasn’t happy with the idea that Percy and Tristan, who played such big roles in our lives for so long, weren’t in the world any more. “I know it sounds like high-school existentialism,” he confessed, “but I don’t like thinking about it.”

I understood. When we put Percy down, the vet left us in the room to say our goodbyes, and then instructed us to turn out the light and close the door behind us whenever we were ready. Leaving him on the table like an inanimate object struck me as terribly disrespectful. Couldn’t they have someone sit with him until he was cremated, perhaps reading a bit of James Herriot?* I could not quite process that the real Percy, my pet and friend of 15 years, was gone.

Simon no longer asks us about the cats. But he clearly has no object impermanence, as demonstrated by a conversation he had with Matt last night that I will paraphrase. Matt was lying down with him at bed-time, and the conversation turned to the Radiohead lullabye CD that was playing.

You know Simon, when I lived in California alone, I listened to Radiohead every day.

Why were you alone?

Matt explained the circumstances of our move to California and how he went two and a half months before I did.

One day, Mommy and I even went to see Radiohead play live in the desert.

Where was I?

You weren’t here yet.

Was I with Mommy?

No, Mommy was with me. You weren’t here yet.

Was I with Bubbie?


Was I with Grandma?


Was I resting?


Was I on the sidewalk?

As you can see, the scenarios got weirder and weirder. He just could not, could not fathom that there was a time before he existed. Which is funny, because as the years go by, I have a harder time with that myself!

* According to Jewish tradition, the deceased must never be alone from the time of death or discovery up until burial. Traditionally, family, friends, and/or members of the burial society sit with the deceased and read psalms or other edifying material. I didn’t think Percy would enjoy Song of Songs that much….

One Response to “Object Impermanence”

  1. bethnbobinnc says:

    Sounds like a similar conversation I had with Evan. We always referred to it as, “before you were in Mommy’s tummy”. I made the mistake of bringing eggs into the conversation…. Now we get, “was that when I was in the egg?” Can’t wait until that no longer satisfies the curiousity and we have to have the whole conversation….. should be fun…. :)

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