Tiny Coconut

I have things.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

The Holocaust, Child Abuse, and Candyland

This parenting thing is a seat-of-your-pants kind of endeavor. But the choices we make are not only about instinct, I think, but also about personality. Me, I don't like to lie, and I don't like to pull punches. So when my kids ask me questions, they get answers. Sometimes, they get lectures on topics that many other parents would think are way too advanced for them. And sometimes, they tell me when they need me to back off.

Last night was chock full of such moments. It started with Em (7 years old) telling me that they'd been talking about Christopher Columbus in second grade, and did I know he wasn't always a very nice person, and that he and the people with him killed and hurt Native Americans, and also that they got them sick by bringing diseases over, etc. The conversation took some twists and turns in which we talked about the kids in her class who are part Native American, Em asked if she had any Native American ancestors, and I told her that no, but she had ancestors from countries like Germany, Poland, Ruusia, etc. She was clearly disappointed that she had no personal claim to the tragedy and disenfranchisement of the Native Americans: "I mean, it's interesting, but nothing bad every happened to them, right?"

Au contraire, young girl, I replied. (Except not so pompously.) And I told her that her Grandpa, my father, had actually been born in Germany, and had to leave because there were people there who weren't very nice, either.

"Why weren't they nice?" she asked.

"They didn't like Jewish people," I answered.

"What did they do that was mean?"

"Someday I'll tell you all about it, but right now it's kind of too adult for me to get into with you," I said.

"Well, did they kill people?" she persisted.

"Actually, yes. Yes, they did."

Silence for a second, then: "You're right Mommy. That's too adult for me. I don't want to hear any more."

Round two started a bit later, when she was telling me all about her latest social woes with a new friend, C, who is being awfully possessive and, although smart as a whip, seems to have a bit of a hairtrigger temper. I was commiserating with her and trying to brainstorm solutions with her when she said something about "like the time she pushed me down last week and I got that bad scratch on my elbow."

"Hold on," I said. "You told me that you fell down."

"Oh, yeah, I forgot," Em said, suddenly looking ashamed. "I didn't want C to get in trouble."

Something in me snapped a little, then, and I started talking to Em--lecturing, to be honest--about how important it is not to let people hurt your body, or even your emotions, without saying something about it. I wasn't sure she was getting what I was saying, and how important it was. Finally, I heard myself tell her to look me straight in the eyes, and I said, "You know, Em, there are some really bad people in the world who will not only do bad things to a kid like you, but who will then threaten to hurt or even kill you or your parents or someone else you live if you tell. I'm telling you right now: Do Not Believe that kind of person. ALWAYS tell someone when you're being hurt. And don't try and protect someone just because they're your friend, or because they say they love you. You have to learn that. NOW."

Yeah, I know. I was smart enough to know that the Holocaust would be too much for her to understand, but I lay the concept of abuse and emotional blackmail on her without a second thought. I'm an idiot.

And if I didn't know it as the words were coming out of my mouth, I did know it a minute or so later, when Em burst into tears. "I don't want anyone to ever hurt you or daddy," she wailed.

"That's my point," I said. "They won't. They will just want you to think they would, so you won't tell on them. And you shouldn't believe them."

But by this point, the damage was done, and she continued to cry for a while. I held her with one hand, a sick N (who'd been home all day vomiting) in the other, and tried to kick myself in the butt for being such an ass.

Finally, after all the crying and the deep thoughts and discussions had died down, N asked if we could go in the family room and play Candyland. And so we did. Em was still pretty somber, but halfway through our second game (N kicked our butts in the first round!), we were giggling about something or other, and Em looked over at me and said, "You know, sometimes, there's nothing like a good game of Candyland to cheer you right up."

That, my friends, is one powerful board game.

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