“Daddy, am I going to Hell?”
I looked up to the rearview mirror in shock, my eyes open wide. I looked at my four year old son, A, in the backseat, his hair tousled from a hard day of play at school, a jelly stain on his beloved shark shirt. His eyes are so blue.
“A, of course you aren’t going to Hell! Why would you ask that?”
My eyes flashed over to J, my 7 year old, on the other side of the backseat, strapped into his booster seat. He looked over at his little brother, ever the supporter. “Yeah, A, y would you ask that?” He must have noticed the touch of concern in my voice.
A shrugged, not disturbed, just curious. “Well, Heavenly Father created Heaven for good people and Hell for bad people.”
I grimaced internally but didn’t show it on my face. Now more of an atheist, I was raised an active Mormon, and remembered growing up with the vision of sunlight and clouds for the angels, and torture and fire and brimstone with the evil laughing devil over them for the bad guys. I try hard to instill in my children a wide world view of living happy lives and understanding all religions. They attend the Unitarian Church with their mother now, but they still visit their grandparents regularly, their grandparents being active Mormons who pray and still teach them about Heavenly Father and Jesus and Heaven and Hell. And they naturally have questions.
“A, you are definitely a good person. You are a great kid.”
J chipped in, still concerned. “Yeah, A. And you have a good family who loves you.”
A was looking out the window. “Well, I know why there is a devil.”
“Yeah? Why is that, A?”
“Well, cause Heavenly Father created one. And he lives in Hell. He’s a really really mean bad guy. He’s more mean than the Joker or Loki or Green Goblin. But he’s kind of like the Joker.”
“How is he like the Joker?”
“He likes to joke! And they are mean jokes!”
I made eye contact with him in the mirror and suppressed a laugh. A has the most serious little look on his face when he’s being dramatic like this, talking about sharks or super villains.
“Yeah, he is definitely a mean guy.” J interjected, looking up at me to back him up.
Before I could respond, A switched topics. “How come there aren’t dinosaurs anymore?”
I smiled, keeping my eyes on the road. “Well, dinosaurs lived a long, long time ago and they all died.”
A talked right over me. “They were born even before Grandma. And Heavenly Father created them, too. But I wish they were still alive. Then I could fight a T-Rex. I’m faster and they have tiny little arms.”
The boys chattered on for a minute, hilarious and random as they usually are, as I thought silently. When there was a lull in conversation, I went back to the concerning topic.
“A, how come you asked if you are going to Hell?”
He looked at me this time, in the mirror. “I was just wondering.”
I gave him my intense dad look, conveying seriousness and pride and silliness all at once, my eyebrows knit down and my eyes on his. “Well listen up, little man. There is no way you are going to Hell. And even if you did, you know what I would do?”
“What?” He asked in wonder.
“I would get all of my friends and everyone who loves you and I would lead them down there and we would rescue you. We would fight the devil and everyone and I would win. Then I would put you on my back, piggy-back, and I would carry you back to Earth.”
He had an expression of adventure on his face. “You could fight dragons! And–and dinosaurs!”
“Yes! I’ll fight them all because I love you! And J would help me! He would use all of his super powers and his super brain and we would rescue you!”
A sat up taller. “Yeah, and after you get me out of my Hell cage I could fight with you, too! I’ll punch the devil right in the face cause I’m so strong!”
J joined in now, sitting up taller as well. “Yeah, and I will dance and run all over and so fast! We will save you, A!”
A few hours later, after a pancake with peanut butter dinner and pretending we are sharks in a swimming pool and bath time and pajamas, I cuddled my boys, one on each arm, and made up stories to tell them about giant frogs and fairy princesses and sabretooth tigers. I sang them their favorite lullabies and tucked them in to sleep. I walked in a while later and looked at them sleeping. J lay in the shorts and tank top he had chosen to sleep in, underneath the three blankets he had pulled around his frame. A lay in thick wool pajamas he had chosen, with no blankets, flipped upside down with his feet on the pillow. I listened to their breathing and wondered about their dreams. But I hoped that if they dreamed of monsters or villains or devils, that perhaps I appeared in some form as their ally, as their dad, as their rescuer.
Because they have certainly rescued me.