Thursday, June 12, 2008


As The Boy Turns

Without so much as warning me, The Boy has started to move from small child to proto-tween.

Yes, I'm biased, but he's a remarkably smart kid. Earlier this week his class did an exercise with contractions, in which they were supposed to fill-in-the-blanks with the appropriate contractions. One sentence was “Mars ____ have water.” The 'correct' answer was 'doesn't,' but he knew that was wrong, so he crossed out the n't. His teacher raised an eyebrow, but he got a round of high fives when he got home. Speak truth to power, big guy! We were proud that he knew the facts, but even prouder that he was willing to contradict the official story when it flew in the face of the facts. That's not bad for a first grader. Hell, the President of the United States can't do that. Go, TB!

I took him recently to a baseball clinic for kids held at the local stadium by our local minor-league team. It was that nasty Northeastern muggy hot, where it's too humid to sweat but too hot not to, and you start to reflect that maybe the root of the Middle Eastern conflict is a lack of central air. His friend Chip was there, so he and Chip immediately paired up and went from station to station together. (I was in the stands, with the other parents. It looked like a photojournalism workshop, with Dads wielding all manner of cameras from all over the stadium.) Watching him field grounders brought that mix of pride and shock that all parents know. Pride that he was out there, un-self-consciously participating and giving it his all. Shock that my little guy has hit an age I remember being, and is doing things I remember doing. He's better at it than I was at that age, which, I'll admit, is easy.

Standing in line at each station, he and Chip just kept making each other laugh, doing impressions of characters from the Star Wars movies and showing off their armpit-fart techniques. When other kids were fielding grounders or throwing pitches from a windup, he and Chip were just busting on each other and having a great time. It was fun to watch, and I know it was a great experience for him, but there's something a little humbling about realizing that you've been demoted to 'chauffeur' status.

Or sometimes censor. We get 1-3 newspapers every morning, because I'm a nerd. I read them at breakfast, and encourage TB to read them, too. (Yes, I know, it's very pre-internet of me, but there's just something comforting about reading a paper while drinking coffee at breakfast.) He usually just does the kids' page or the comics, which is fine, though sometimes there's a cool story-with-picture about a volcano or a Mars rover or something and I'll point that out to him.

But he can read, and sometimes he'll scan headlines before I realize he's doing it.

This week there was a story about the parents of a girl in his grade, at his school. He has friends in her class. Her father shot and killed her mother in their home, and the girl and her younger sister have become wards of the state. The girl hasn't been to school since then, but so far, the kid grapevine hasn't picked up on the story.

I'm not ready for him to know that yet.

Luckily, the headlines were sufficiently indirect that even if he saw them, he probably wouldn't have connected the dots. And the sheer ubiquity of violence in our culture, perversely enough, means that this story gets coverage for a day or two, then fades away to make room for the next ones. He doesn't know the girl himself.

TW and I have discreetly hidden the last few newspapers.

Yes, he'll eventually have to be exposed to the whole panoply of human behavior, including the inhuman parts. Coming to some sort of terms with the barbarity people are capable of is part of growing up. But for God's sake, he's in first grade. It's too soon. It's just too soon.

For all his astonishing maturity, and his composure beyond his years, he's still a kid. I want him to have that. I'll accept demotion to chauffeur status for sports, and the vaguely patronizing look he gives me when I don't recognize some character from the second Star Wars trilogy. But let him have a few more untroubled years to grow stronger, to develop the perspective and empathy and ability to compartmentalize that lets us read something utterly horrific and then go to work. Without more life behind him, I worry that news like that could just overwhelm him.

At some point, he'll learn about men who think they're entitled to shoot their wives and leave their young children defenseless. I'd just rather he not learn that while he's a young child himself.

Wow. Here (Toronto) a crisis team would have descended on the school already, communicated to the classmates, and made grief counselling available.
DD, another thoughtful post on parenting. And could I ever relate to the problem with leaving headlines out in the open. This past week, our local daily had an above-the-fold story on a father who was arrested (felon in possession of a gun, negligence, etc.) after his four-year-old shot his two-year-old brother in the head. The headline read something like, "Dad arrested after son is shot." I was afraid my son (age seven) would think the father had shot his son, so I flipped the section over. The below-the-fold story was about a candidate for the state legislature who's been in bed (so to speak) with porn businesses. Maybe I'm a prude, but I didn't want to have to define "porn" for a seven-year-old. So I hid that section and left the sports section on top. And yet I want the kid to read newspapers -- as so many of my students do not! Not easy striking the right balance between encouraging the current-events bug and protecting the innocence of a not-quite big kid.
Just wait till he gets old enough to begin turning his healthy skepticism on *your* cherished viewpoints!

Been there, done that- your time will come- "the natural order of things" I suppose.

Has any credible research been done on the chain of views/values over generations in the same family unit?

It's amazing how much smarter my father got as I got older (and how much dumber my teenagers thought I was). . . !
As a teacher of students TB's age, I want to applaud you on two fronts:

First, in the internet and television driven age you not only read to and with your children, you model reading as a fun activity. By enjoying a newspaper over breakfast you are showing him that the printed word is a vital and exciting part of life. This does remarkable things for a child's life-long view of reading and learning.

Second, thank you for setting boundaries and recognizing that violence is NOT appropriate entertainment material for children. As an intelligent small child TB is at a particularly vulnerable stage - he understands intellectually more than he can deal with emotionally. I see so many children who's parents attempt to give them "freedom" and wind up simply scaring and confusing them. Some parents seem to think that they are holding children back or being somehow selfish by not exposing them to the "real" world. The truth seems to me, however, to be that the adult world is simply not a safe or appropriate place
for children, and it is our job as their stewards to make careful judgement calls about what they should experience and when.

In short, from someone who has studied child-psychology and has a vested interest in the development of young children, keep up the good work!
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