Welcome to the first installment of “He Said/She Said”. This is where we write independently about a subject and then post the results here.
I try to keep in mind at all times that the goal of parenting is the successful launch of a complete, whole, well-adjusted, self-sufficient adult ready to take on the world as much as any young adult can. Admittedly, the maturation process continues long after the “adult” has left home. But, in general, they should at least be able to think for themselves and cope with situations in an adult manner once they are no longer in “the nest”. I understand this is a process from the parents’* perspective of slowly letting go: allowing more rope, allowing more freedom, widening that safety net until that “one day” all protection is gone.
In an ideal world, there is a period of innocence that allows a child to just be a child: without worry, without the awful knowledge of reality, without the pain of experience. The 1997 movie “Life is Beautiful” is a great example of this ideal of innocence. If you will recall (and if you can’t recall or never saw the movie, it is worth the rental), the father constantly played a game with his son to mask the reality of living in a German concentration camp. Essentially, the father was protecting the innocence of his young son by witholding information, even about the horrible reality that surrounded them and that the child witnessed with his own eyes.
Having a nearly 7-year old, we are approaching one of those transition times in rearing children. In very real ways, our daughter is slowly losing that innocence that defines young childhood. She is exposed to information from which we can not protect her and some that we are allowing her to experience based on her age and maturity level. It is interesting to observe other families and the levels to which they expose or allow their children to have access to information/experiences. For example, we don’t have cable, we don’t allow JBelle to watch the news (not that she is terribly interested) or most primetime television, or to get on the internet. Some might call us overprotective. I prefer to look at it as protecting something precious that one can never get back.
If the goal in raising her is to form a well-rounded adult, naivete (at launch) is a deficiency rather than a virtue. I understand that and will do everything in my power to help her be a well-informed and experienced young adult. However, at 6, almost 7, she is still worthy of having the luxury of innocence. The realities of life will be there when she is ready, but for now, she is still a little girl and I am going to do everything I can to make sure she gets the chance to be just that.
*I understand that a child does not always have two parents and that innocence for millions, if not billions of people, must seem like a fantasty. However, as I write in this blog, it will always be from my experience/idealism. Therefore, if you choose to get offended by the words I use or the manner in which I write, good. My hope is that you would rather enjoy my different (or tired, old, re-treaded, ignorant) opinions. Truly, without hope or idealism, what’s the point?
On Monday, April 16th, JBelle stayed after school with her teacher and a few other classmates for a special “playdate” of sorts. It turned out to be very good timing for us as our world forever changed earlier that day with the tragic events at Virginia Tech. At the time JBelle would have normally been returning home, I had a tear streaked face and had just agreed to being interviewed for NewsChannel5. After the interview (sans tear streaked face – I had time to clean-up before they arrived), we headed to JBelle’s school to get her and then went to dinner. We never told her what happened that day and we didn’t plan on telling her either.
How do explain something like that to a first grader? Especially when you have trouble comprehending the evil and horror of it all yourself. I’m a big proponent of letting kids just be kids. Children don’t need to be weighed down with heavy emotional baggage or with adult responsibilities. Innocence is so fleeting and so easily lost.
The attempted assassination of President Reagan happened when I was in first grade. I don’t remember how I found out about it, I just remember knowing that it happened. I was reassured that he would be okay and that the man who had shot him had been arrested. At seven years old, that was all I needed to know.
A couple of days after the tragedy at Virginia Tech, JBelle came home from school and asked me if I knew why the flags were being flown at half staff. I told her that I did and I asked her if she knew why. She told me because some college students in Virginia got shot and died. My heart broke a little when she said that, I’d hoped to shield her from it all. But looking back on it, she’s close to the same age that I was when Reagan was shot. While the two events are quite different on a scale of violence and loss, she had learned the basic facts and that was all she needed to know. A couple days after that she asked me if college students at Virginia Tech were still being shot. Again, my heart broke a little hearing her ask that question. I assured her that no, no one was being shot at anymore.
I imagine the questions will continue to come as her brain, little by little, processes the information. I know I can’t protect her from everything but I’ll try my best to answer the questions as honestly as I can without sacrificing the innocence of her young mind.