Monday, July 18, 2011

The Really Hard Talk (Babble)

People often refer to explaining sex to children as ‘the talk.’  Parents fret about having ‘the talk’ with their kids and wonder how young is too young, etc.  I’m not worried about talking about sex with my kids.  We’ve doled out bits of information as seemed appropriate and taught our kids the proper terms for anatomy for years.  In my mind there is no one ‘talk,’ there is a process of adding to my kids’ knowledge over time about their bodies and how bodies work.  This doesn’t make me squeamish or nervous.  It’s just simple information.

The really hard talk, as far as I’m concerned, is about evil.  I think our true loss of innocence begins not when we learn how reproduction happens or explaining the connections between sex and love, but how human beings who look and act and talk just like people we know are capable of monstrous acts and unpardonable crimes.  The world can be a horrifying place.  That’s not a truth I’ve looked forward to sharing with my children.   They see so much beauty it’s tempting to never draw back that curtain to expose the horrors that exist in our midst, but not to do so is dangerous at some point.  It would leave them too trusting, too vulnerable, if I let them remain innocent forever.

My children are sensitive.  I’ve written about this before, and how I worry that they will be too fragile if they don’t learn to accept that bad things happen in the world.  But it seems to me that knowledge of evil comes on a need to know basis, and that need to know is determined by how much they are in charge of themselves.  If I can adequately protect them from danger then they don’t need to know about it.  But if I send them off into the world without me, they need to be able to protect themselves.

Aden is nine and a half.  She looks older than she is because she is tall, but emotionally she is a young nine.  She has a soft spot in her heart for animals and she is a deeply sentimental person.  Aden is also capable enough that we’ve started extending her more freedom and responsibility.  We don’t need to walk her down the street to get to her friend’s house.  We’ve been able to leave her in charge of her little brother for short stretches when we need to.   She’s even been able to go down the two blocks to Target for us to pick up milk when we run out.  It’s exciting to see Aden growing up and becoming a more independent person, able to maneuver in the world without our guidance every step of the way.  I’m proud of her for that.

But then I read the news about the killing of Leiby Kletzky last week.  I wept at my bench in the violin shop and hoped no customers would come in.  That is the nightmare that makes loving parents rein their kids in close and not want to let go.  That story is too horrible for words.  What are we to do with it?  There are no lessons to be learned from it, aside from the fact that life isn’t fair and that I will never understand people who can harm children.  I think about that poor little boy and the unspeakable grief his family is suffering and wish it could be different, but I have no such power.  All I have are tears.

So I did what probably many parents did after reading that story.  I hugged my children and sat them down for a review about never ever ever getting into a car with a stranger.  That people who hurt children usually seem very nice but it’s a trick.  That no trustworthy grown-up asks children for help finding a puppy or counting kittens in a van.  I told my children if someone makes them nervous they are to run, and be loud, and to find someone they know.  All the rules about being polite go out the window if something is suspicious.  That if anyone ever tells them to keep a secret from their mom, that’s a warning sign.  They can tell me anything.  I am home base.  I love them no matter what.

These are hard lessons to teach sometimes, because I don’t want to scare my children.  The odds are that nothing will ever happen to them just walking around our neighborhood, or running off to Target for something.  But they still need to understand that something could happen in order to make decent choices and remain out of trouble.  The problem is I don’t want to go into detail about WHY they should avoid these bad people.  I tell them there are people who want to hurt children and leave it at that.

Or, at least, I did until last week.  I ran through the ‘bad people safety review’ and then the kids went off to play and later we went to the Y for swimming lessons.  Quinn and Mona took swimming this summer, but Aden chose not to.  She just played in the small pool on her own or with friends until her siblings’ lessons were over.  Last week as I sat in the pool observing Quinn’s class, Aden swam over to me.  She cuddled close and was her cute playful self, and then she said she had a question.  Aden wanted to know if a kidnapper did get her (and she interrupted herself to assure me that she knew it would never happen, but still….), what would the kidnapper do to her?  What kinds of things do kidnappers do to children?

I debated in my mind what to say.  Do I keep my sweet girl innocent?  Or do I pull back that curtain?  That’s not an easy decision to make.  But I decided she needs to know.  She needs to be aware of why I get scared when she isn’t where I expect her to be when we give her a curfew or if she wanders off on her own in a crowd.

I held her hands and gave her the bare facts of the Leiby Kletzky story.  I did not tell her that the monster who killed him dismembered the body and dumped it in garbage cans.  I said an eight-year-old boy tried walking home by himself, but that he got lost and asked the wrong person for help, and that man tricked the boy into coming home with him and killed him there.  Aden’s eyes filled with tears.  “He was only eight?” she asked.  I told her it was the scariest story I’d heard in a long time and that it made me cry, too.

Aden hugged me there in the pool.  I told her I didn’t know why some people are just bad, but she needs to know they are out there so she can do sensible things to help keep herself safe.  Then Aden realized how upset the whole thing made me, and in typical Aden fashion she decided to balance things out to make me feel better.  She doesn’t want me to be sad.  We read Charlotte’s Web this week for her book club, and when it made me cry she suggested we take a break. 

There in the pool she managed a smile and asked if I wanted to see her float on her back.  I told her of course I did.  Aden floats beautifully.

No comments:

Post a Comment