I am at a birthday party for one of Daughter’s friends, a (now) six-year-old boy who is only sometimes pleased to be graced with a very aggressive three-year-old sister. The children have been hiding in the dark laundry room with one of his new gifts, a tiny projector with erasable transparencies that they’ve spent two hours writing messages on and projecting onto the ceiling. As I return from the bathroom, French Gazelle—homeschooler, Boy’s mom and good friend of mine—says, “You’ve been teaching Jaguar-Daughter to read… how’s that going?”
The other moms listen with interest, being parents to children of similar age across a range of schooling types, from homeschooling to public and private schools.
“Well,” I say, “it’s going all right. She’s really more interested in writing than reading, but it’s hard to be good at writing if you don’t read.”
As I am speaking, Birthday Boy dashes up to his mother’s elbow and waits impatiently for me to finish so he can speak. “Look what Jaguar-Daughter wrote for me!” he says, all mischief. French Gazelle starts reading and looks like she’s torn between laughter and horror. She hands the transparency to me, which reads:
ONE DAY [Birthday Boy’s Sister] WILL DYE
AND [Birthday Boy] WILL BEE HAPPY
“Well,” I say. “Her spelling’s getting better at least.”
“Oh my gosh,” French Gazelle says. “He must have said something to inspire this, the two of them are always fighting!” And she gets up to admonish Birthday Boy about being more patient with his sister.
I myself go and have a talk with Child. As one might expect, Child doesn’t think she’s done anything wrong; she was reporting the truth as she observed it! I nevertheless tell her it’s not nice to write about people being happy about other people dying (even if it seems true at the time). She says, “Well, I meant to write he’ll be sad, not happy.”
“That’s better,” I say, but on the way back to my chair I think, rueful, If less honest.
Parenting has caused me to notice how often we are taught not to be honest or spontaneous, and every time I guide my daughter away from those moments of spontaneity and (brutal) candor I feel a touch of regret. But it would be a heck of a hard society to live in if everyone said every single thing that was on their mind the moment they thought it.
Oh wait, the internet.
Well, that explains a lot about our recent culture issues, doesn’t it.