The title had been promising. He'd grabbed it quickly and without much idea of what else to look for.
Galactic Parenting, a Guide to Raising Most Species of Children by Crimin Ently
It seemed to make sense, for this odd arrangement he found himself in.
The world of fighting was familiar, the world of diapers and nap times was not.
He peered down at the newly acquired, though scuffed and scratched and age-worn—like an implicit promise that this way was more dangerous than it seemed—datapad in his hand, at the line that currently stood out.
Ensure dangerous heights and stairs are fenced off
Din then peered up at the upside-down child, who just blinked pensively back from his position on the roof of the Crest that was still very beyond him how he'd even reached. Or how he was staying up there. But the kid seemed very unbothered and almost...content? Maybe it was an extension of his floaty powers. With a tilt of his helmet and a shrug of his shoulders, Din made a note in his head and wordlessly deposited the datapad to the nearest surface.
Later, he returned to the vendor he'd bought the datapad from.
“Do you have something like this but for kids that aren't typical?”
The Ithorian peered at him from over his index.
“Are you looking for childcare for special conditions?”
“What is their condition?”
Where to begin? A child that was green, with enormous ears, was fifty years old but still a baby, and could lift 5000 pound beasts with his mind. Also liked frogs and had a propensity for stealing small shiny objects.
“I don't think we have anything on the subject, sir.”
Well, entirely reliable or not, the information contained in the childcare manual should surely be sufficient for his needs. This would be temporary after all.
Do not co-sleep with your baby. This can increase the risk of sudden infant death syndrome.
It seemed odd, especially since the kid himself seemed vehemently opposed to the idea of sleeping in his own carrier, but Din adhered carefully, even though it meant getting up to remove the kid when he snuck in to cuddle with him in his bunk. Every night. Multiple times a night.
He brought it up to Omera one day they were still on Sorgan, to see if she offered any insight or solutions to this problem.
She hid a small quirk of the mouth, as if she was in on some small inside joke.
“I believe that rule is intended for newborns—little babies,” she explained, her dress swaying in time to her steps, “Because they can't support their own head yet, they can suffocate if shifted into the wrong position.”
As if on cue, a chorus of giggles turned both of their heads in tandem to follow the child, who was currently running along with the other children with little issue, on a mission to terrorize all the small creatures of the undertoe.
“I think he'd be okay.”
Which was a relief, as it allowed him to finally sleep through the night. The child was happy to finally get his way, snuggling up against Din's chest as he slowly drifted off into gentle snores. As for Din, it certainly wasn't unpleasant to fall asleep to the cadence of another being's breathing.
All the same, he eventually repurposed a bolt of spare fabric to hang a hammock in the nook of the little sleeping bunk, just in case the kid ever wanted more space, since everything on the Crest was cramped. He discovered that if he moved the hammock to sway ever so slightly, it would rock the child to sleep. This he seemed to like. At least until Din would awake in the middle of the night to see that the kid had climbed out anyway to curl up in the space he'd claimed as his own near his heart. And with a gentle sleepy pat on his head, and a brush of an ear, Din would drift back to sleep, lulled by the ship's endless rattling and the sense that all was well and quiet, at least until morning.
Do not leave your child alone in any ship, cruiser, or ground vehicle.
This one unfortunately took a couple of errors to sink in, even after the admonition of a well-meaning but brash mechanic. Then that same mechanic again after the twenty-something who had ambition and stupidity in equal measure had taken them both hostage. Then—again—after finding the unnerving bug-eyed droid cornering the kid that he promptly shot dead, but he hadn't had much choice about that whole situation. And then again after leaving the child alone in the cockpit which resulted in the entire vessel as well as his brain getting rocked around in his skull. And then again...
To his defense it was just him, alone, looking after the kid. He'd traversed most things alone for most of his life, but it was becoming clearer that this was a course of its own league, and somehow more dangerous. It felt more dangerous. Eventually he adopted his own strategy as a solution that seemed to work, where-ever I go he goes.
Say your child's name to them often.
He blinked and glanced at the child puttering around oblivious to all that did not include his careful tower of makeshift toys (consisting of re-purposed tools and spare parts and whatever else Din could find that interested him).
“Sorry,” he said aloud, “I don't know your name.”
He briefly wondered if the kid even had a name. Was he ever given one? Did he have a name given by a people he belonged to, but Din had no way of discovering? Or did his life start at the hands of Imperials, who gave names to weapons but not to beings?
And the scary possibility—would Din need to give him one?
Names meant more than it seemed many of the rest of the galaxy gave credit for. More than just a designation, it was something given in belonging, and often love.
And to give him one would admit that this connection was more than a temporary situation.
He wouldn't say outright that this was non-applicable, just... not yet.
So instead, he called him Kid.
Favor water and nutritious beverages over others.
He'd repeated this one after finding said brash mechanic had apparently let the child sip on her cup of sweetened caf while he hadn't been looking. Peli just waved him off and said those rules were more like suggestions, the kid would be fine, and see he likes it.
Well, the kid had liked it far too much, and was bouncing off the walls for the next few hours, well past bedtime. This resulted in Din allotting an extra two naptimes for the next day... mostly for himself. And he wondered, more and more, if naptimes were a unionized conspiracy of tired parents, more so than tired kids.
Encourage them to explore and try new activities.
“Let's try... not pressing buttons we don't recognize.”
He said this as he was sprawled back in the pilot's seat, trying to catch his breath after the chaos of the past hour.
They had been in queue of a subspace station, sidled in among a crowd of unmarked ships anxious for re-fuel and a chance to dock, when the kid decided that the pull of a red button was too alluring to resist.
Before Din could notice or stop him, the pulse of a red laser had been shot into space. Though it had missed the Tholothian freighter by a wide margin, the vessel had taken the gesture as an act of a aggression, and sent him into a space chase that ended with both of the ships losing fuel about 15 lightyears from the station. A communications exchange as they were adrift led to a tentative truce and they were unceremoniously towed back to the station for a frankly gouging fee.
All in all, not an experience he'd like to repeat any time soon.
“Kid?” he repeated, turning to his right, “Did you hear me? No more buttons, alright?”
The kid, sat small and innocent in the co-pilot's seat just gave a hum of acknowledgment.
Tired enough to be satisfied with that, he crossed his arms and willed himself from falling asleep, because he knew if he took his attention off the kid for a second—
In his periphery he saw a tiny clawed hand reach for the Eject button and, incidentally, Din's last nerve.
And with well-timed reflexes, disaster was narrowly evaded, and the child was confined to his watchful lap for the rest of the week.
Keep choking hazards out of their reach.
His mind went back to their first day, seeing the child both catch and swallow an entire frog whole, and thought, surely. Surely, this wouldn't be an applicable problem either.
The child was occupied with gnawing on the silver lever ball as Din sat navigating.
When he looked over again, the ball had disappeared, and the kid was making weird noises.
Surely, this wouldn't be a problem.
“Alright, very funny,” but it set tension in his shoulders down to his hands, “Knock it off.”
The noises continued and the kid took on a glazed panicked look.
And instantly Din was on his knees over the kid.
Two tense minutes later, the kid was fine and breathing free and bopping around as if nothing had happened. Din, however, was not, and vowed that playing with this thing would happen only under close supervision.
“This isn't funny,” he said lowly, holding the ball coated thickly in saliva.
He only received a giggle in response, and he shook his head in disbelief.
Feed your child new foods, encourage them to try different things without force.
They'd spent the last half hour doing just that.
Fruits and sweet things were an accepted food.
Green vegetables were not. Attempts to encourage further would be thrown onto the floor.
“Pretend it's a frog?” he suggested, trying to make it sound reasonable, “Same color.”
Yeah, the kid could smell the bantha shit there, and gave him narrowed eyes. And that was fair, he supposed.
Next thing then.
Land meats were accepted.
Fish-type meats were accepted (the slimier the better).
Protein paste was accepted.
So accepted in fact, that the kid, eager to share the experience, happily smeared a handful of the paste onto the front face of his helmet, approximately where his mouth would be.
A happy chirp, around a mouthful of food, was the reply.
Say your child's name often.
Kid was still the main one, though it took on a different, more familiar shape as time went on.
Buddy had joined without him thinking about it.
Encourage your child to engage in pretend play.
“It's okay, it's okay,” he whispered, clutching the kid against him, even though anyone with ears or eyes could tell by the cacophony of blaster fire and flashing lights that nothing was okay.
They'd gotten caught up in the middle of a territorial conflict. And it wasn't the first time the kid had been in the middle of a fire fight, but this time there was no covert of Mandalorians to save them. This time, the kid's eyes were alert and wide and fearful looking up at the showering of sparks in the sky. He let out a little whimper.
“It's okay,” he repeated, trying to think how to keep the kid calm enough they could quietly slip out, and book it back to the ship.
“Here's—here's what we're going to do. We're going to play pretend. For a little while.”
The kid was focused on him now.
“These bolts are—just fireworks. Okay? It's just a light show.” There was an explosion on the periphery of his vision and a spray of gravel and debris just missed them. “A loud light show. It'll be okay. It'll—just stay focused on me, okay?”
Bright wide eyes relaxed just a little, and the tiny hammering of the heart beneath his fingers quieted and slowed. He broke cover.
The way the bolts stuttered and people moved sluggish as time seemed to slow must have been a weird adrenaline effect. Not one he'd ever experienced before, but still.
They made it back to the Crest, standing like a safe sentinel in the trees, and wasted no time breaking atmosphere.
The kid slept for the rest of the day.
Tell your child stories
The aftermath of near-death experiences were difficult, odd places to navigate. His head still didn't feel quite healed—perhaps that was why his vision swam and bile burned in his throat every time he thought of empty helmets—and sitting in the ship he almost regretted not taking Karga's offer to stay on solid planet ground for a little longer.
He looked back at the kid—the one that had saved him over and over—holding the mythosaur pendant. His fingers traced the familiar contours a little, before handing it back to the child, who chewed it a little, eyes still fixed on him.
Stars whirring by, his head in something like a blank, he began to speak. In part to keep himself from sleeping yet until his brain healed a little more, and in part because these were things he wanted to tell the kid anyway. Some of it was stories, the myths and legends that had been told to him, among those whose empty armors they were leaving on Nevarro.
But he also told him his own stories. Where his path had led him until now. And the child listened, watching him intently, even as the hours went by, and bedtime came and went.
“We'll find where you belong,” he'd ended on a promise, tired, ready for sleep.
The child, still holding the pendant close as he cuddled against Din, leaned against the new signet that had been embossed onto his pauldron.
Encourage your child's verbal and cognitive development. Ask them to name objects and body parts.
He stood heaving breaths and mentally checked himself over for injuries, peering at the bodies surrounding him to ensure they were down and out for good. A coo from his left reminded him of the kid's presence, sensing safety and sticking his head out of the pram.
“Uh,” he hesitated, pulling his knife from the chest of the Zabrak.
“Knife,” he held up the knife after surreptitiously wiping the blood on his pantleg to show the kid.
Large, luminous eyes just blinked blankly up at him.
“Uh, wrist,” he held up the limp arm of the Zabrak, “you can break them if someone bad tries to touch you. Well, maybe you can't—” he thought again, thinking of the time the child had choked Cara Dune when he misinterpreted grunts of effort for harm “Or maybe you can.”
The kid just tilted his head, looking all the world more confused than he did five minutes ago, and Din just lapsed back into silence. Perhaps this isn't what they meant.
The conversation was interrupted anyway as Gor Koresh fled.
Din didn't try it again, figuring the kid forgot the odd exchange anyway.
Yet, later, as he was trying quickly to shake his daze from the trip wire and being thrown off his speeder to fall into the fight, he caught a glance at the kid, cornered by an alien. The kid raised his hands, and something caused the alien to jump back suddenly.
Later, he again noticed that alien, knocked out by his own blows. Its wrist was bent at an unnatural angle, no doubt very thoroughly broken.
Perhaps he should have been horrified, but it was hard to squash the spark of pride in his chest.
Especially when the other half of his mind was whispering, that had been too close. Too many times, too close to losing the kid.
Before becoming verbal, your child has their own tools of communication. Learn to listen to what they can't say.
This made more sense eventually. Living in a covert of Mandalorians meant becoming fluent in body language. But it took some time to get used to a vocabulary of ears, eyes, and coos.
His mental glossary grew as time passed. Ears down meant sad, ears up meant happy. Arms held up meant he wanted to be picked up. Head tilt signaled confusion, or interest.
Different coos had unique intonations. A noise of curiosity was distinct from a noise of distress was different from a noise of request. And all subtleties and idiosyncrasies therein. With context, more and more, he found he could parse what the kid was trying to get across.
They were standing to the side on a porch as the villagers and Sand People prepared to stake their stand against the Krayt Dragon, the relentless Tatooine sun on their backs, the sounds of banthas' lowing filling the air.
One shambled up close to them, and the kid's ears perched high as he gave awe-filled chirp.
Din smiled a little, “That's a bantha.”
He assessed the shaggy creature, figuring out where he could hang the kid's sling. He wondered if he would enjoy riding it as much as he'd enjoyed the speeder.
A coo, a head tilt, and a head craned upwards.
“Yes, they're pretty big creatures.”
Nothing on a mudhorn, but he supposed the kid hadn't gotten as close to it.
He lifted the child, and deposited him into the carrier slung along the beast's side. The kid wiggled around to get comfortable, then buried his hands in all the shaggy hair he could reach, excited and curious at the weird feeling.
“Bah!” he turned big eyes to Din.
“No,” he answered resolutely, unslinging his rifle to secure it also, “we're not taking one back with us.”
Ears sank and he blew a raspberry in a noise like disappointment.
“Do you know how long I was finding blurrg turds in the lower hold?” he continued, “And how long they took to clean?”
The kid scrunched his nose, perhaps remembering the smell.
“Yeah, gross. Don't ask me again.”
Not even a minute of silence as Din unloaded more gear, until ears perked back up and eyes got all big and pleading again.
“No, we're not—”
He cutoff abruptly, realizing there was a villager and a Sand Person staring right at him arguing with a nonverbal child, looks of dumbfoundedness astonishingly identical across species.
And even two groups of beings as different as the Mos Espans and the Sand People could find a point of commonality in at least one more thing. That this armored man with the kid was possibly a little bit insane.
He cleared his throat.
“Carry on,” he said (and signed) to them.
And as the figures turned away with a last skeptical look, he turned back to the kid, and whispered, “Don't listen to them.”
The kid blinked sagely, nodding.
Children learn by example. Smile at them. Show them how to do things.
Well, that wasn't quite going to work. Not exactly.
He needed the kid to just eat what they had, he didn't have the option to seek out other rations at the moment. He knew the kid didn't like green vegetables (or any other colored vegetables, incidentally), but he didn't have other options.
He sighed, a good hearty sigh, and thought hard.
He didn't know how much it violated the rules. How exactly that worked in this case and how far he could push it.
He de-pressurized the helmet with a hiss and lifted the apparatus just enough that he could tilt the food into his mouth. He promptly lowered it, facing the kid as he chewed.
The kid just looked at him with an expression that was hard to parse. Confused. A little curious.
He handed the kid some of the food, and did it again, popping another portion into his mouth. Then he looked back down at the kid, who seemed to catch on to the idea. He slowly took a bite and chewed the food. To Din's surprise a little bit, there was no protest, no fuss. And they both continued, eating in silence.
Eating together was a new activity for them. It went by quietly, neither of them quite used to it yet, but it wasn't altogether objectionable. Just new. New and strange and not something he wanted to think too much about.
They continued that way for a while, and it was interesting to see the way the child was deliberately copying him. He allowed himself to observe that it was like having a little mirror, and he allowed that to make him just a little, tiny bit happy.
Use positive words of encouragement over negative words. Encourage wanted behavior rather than punish unwanted behavior.
He'd love to most days, but today his ship was in pieces on an ice planet he wasn't sure they'd make it off alive. To top that off, the kid had decided his new fixation was eating the frog lady's eggs and he wasn't listening.
“No, that's not food. Don't do that again.”
Nap time had been his usual quick fix, but that hadn't worked and he found the kid with his hands in the case again.
Try to be patient, Din.
“We don't... eat other peoples' eggs. We do eat the food that we're given.”
He gave the kid a ration's box, and he even tried to do the mirror-thing they'd just established, but that hadn't been appealing enough to dissuade him. His ears drooped, he didn't eat very much.
In a foul mood already, Din was tense as the kid came up to his heels as he knelt to the paneling. He knew the kid was trying to get his attention about something, but he turned back to his work.
“Why don't you come over here and give me a hand? Make yourself useful.”
He'd meant it softly. Sort of. Thought he'd said it softly. But when the kid immediately turned and left, he'd had to backtrack and wonder if he'd snapped.
“Hey," he stood, snow crunching under his boots, "where are you going?”
The kid had found where the Frog Lady had gone off to. And he'd felt a little bad that he'd sort-of snapped.
But then there was a million giant spiders after them, and he'd grabbed the kid and ran, and there wasn't much room amidst survival panic to think about it.
They'd lived. And that was something, but if he never saw snow or spiders ever again, it would be too soon.
Do not leave your child unsupervised around bodies of water (such as lakes, pools, and fountains). Drowning is the leading cause of death and injury among this age group.
Jumping in after the kid after seeing the pram close and sink from view had been automatic and involuntary. And unfortunately a little mindless. He hadn't ensured that his own helmet was pressurized, and so when he dove, water began to capsize in around his ears and nose and mouth. Breaking surface again had been instinctual, and perhaps some of the panic was too.
The others had pulled the baby out from the water, and when he saw the dented pram his heart immediately dropped. But then they pulled the small body from the piece of scrap, dry and unharmed and looking only mildly miffed at this unpleasant turn of events. He might have laughed if his entire body wasn't still reeling.
He eagerly took the kid into his arms that were waterlogged and cold and shaking.
The anger and confusion he felt as the others un-helmeted were all secondary; emotions that were hard to give full attention over the roaring in his ears. So he left with the only response he could think of, and when they jetted back to the docks, he found a corner hidden by crates and netting, and held the kid as close to him as his armor allowed and tried to take deep breaths and quiet the hammering in his chest.
“I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry,” he repeated, as the kid chirped back at him, as if to reassure he was still there.
Encourage wanted behavior rather than punish unwanted behavior (try it again)
“I want you to be respectful. And mind your manners.”
And if he quietly prayed that he wouldn't return to the kid having eaten every last one of frog couple's spawn...that was for him to know only.
When he came back the conflict that followed him from the cruiser in a buzz fizzled out suddenly, and he was pleasantly surprised to find the frog couple gazing lovingly at their new spawn, and his own kid gently petting it, placated.
He wished them a congratulations, and had to gently coax the kid to leave.
Sometimes things turned out alright in spite of everything. And that was a lesson for him too.
Say your child's name often
It hadn't been directed at him—Din wasn't sure he'd meant to direct it to anyone, he'd caught and said it like it was only necessary to do so—but the word had elicited an automatic coo from the child before him. An immediate twitch of the ears and tilt of the head, and another softer coo that sounded quietly happy.
“Yes,” said the Jedi, “that's his name.”
If his heart fluttered in a weird way, he didn't acknowledge it. But he said it one more time. Watched as the kid responded again, and tried to squash the way his heart twisted.
He knew his name.
But he had to leave him.
Use words of encouragement
“He's stubborn.” Maybe he shouldn't have said it out loud. But it was true.
“Not him. You.”
He looked up at the Jedi, hoping it wasn't a mind thing.
“Try to connect with him.”
Didn't she see? He was too connected with the kid. To such a degree that everything about this, this edge he was teetering against was too much. It hurt him in a way there was no respite from. It scared him in a way nothing else had, and there was nothing he could about it, or this, or what was necessary.
Don't think about it. Just keep doing what you were doing. Stick to what he knew. And he took out the lever ball that had punctuated their time together.
“Good job kid. I knew you could do it.”
“You did good.”
Say your child's name often.
That's his name.
It was gone.
It was gone, and he was gone.
Everything was gone.
Later his mind would replay this on an endless loop. Recount every turn where he could have done something different, that would have prevented this. If he hadn't left him on the rock alone, if he'd grabbed the jetpack instead of listening to the burn of his legs and running up the hill. If he'd been a little faster, a little more watchful, a little less concerned with matters of armor.
But for now his mind was blank and his vision was cast in ash-grey. He was stranded here. He would die here, alone, as penance for his failure.
He walked in the crater of dust, feeling a little weightless. Ignoring the shape of ghosts in the wind, of Aq Vetina, of Mandalore before the Purge, of the Covert.
It was a little hard to care for this man and the question of his reclaimed armor. Take it. Din thought bitterly. Just take it and leave me.
“I will help you.”
It returned the smallest bit of color to his world and set the tinitest glimmer of something in his chest. Something he refused to name, to call it something as dangerous, as fleeting, as fickle of a liar as hope.
He was outside of himself. Every setting, every movement of his body foreign. Without the walls of his ship, without the familiar weight of his armor, without the familiar presence by his side.
There was no guide, no prescription, not even the advice of his clan leader to inform him what to do. Just heady desperation.
But if there was the slightest faintest chance he could save the kid, he would strip himself, expose himself like an open wound. The feeling of stale humid Imperial compound air on his face felt like being undone.
He didn't care about these people and their squabbles, their missions, or a planet made of poison, or weapons from myth, or any of that. He had one concern, one priority, and it was the empty space in the crook of his arm. It was a child with too-large ears, too-trusting eyes, a propensity for loving shiny objects, and a talent for melting iron hearts.
His world was tilting on its side again, but this time in a quieter sort of way. The universe had shrunk to just the space between his uncovered face and the face of his son as they took in each other. Where a tiny clawed hand was raking over his stubble in fascination. And he closed his eyes because it was too much, and that in spite of everything it tickled.
Smile at your child, he remembered. So he pulled the corners of his mouth into a smile he both did and didn't quite feel.
Go on now, that's one of your kind.
That's where you belong.
This is what we wanted. This is—
Grogu was clutching onto his leg and his eyes were saying to pick him up. And it was so hard to ignore his own arms that were screaming at him to pick him up and hold him and not let go.
There was no guide for this. No advice for how to say goodbye even when it was twisting his insides and choking in his throat and welling in his eyes.
There was no one to ask, and no definite answers for whether everything he'd done had been right or wrong. If there was any way to fix the feeling of his heart being carried away, and leaving him.
Do the best you can. And do it again the next day.
The doors closed. His arms were empty.
And what now?