My daughter is going to be 9 this year. Her favorite past time is eavesdropping on her parents and being generally annoyed by her younger brothers. She is also keenly aware of what’s on the news, so much so, that I’ve started censoring it. I never thought about censoring the world from my children, but lately it seems that I have to. It’s a bit topsy turvy out there and frankly, I’m not sure I’m prepared to answer the questions that she’s going to ask. Because there are always questions.
In 2013 in the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy there were questions. BIG questions that needed BIG answers. I answered them as honestly and as simply as I could to my very scared and very confused little girl. That was easier, in some ways, than the questions I have been feeling looming on the horizon. You see, there were clear heroes, victims, and a bad guy. It was a terrifying and heartbreaking story to tell, but I felt comfortable in the familiar archetypes. This time, those lines aren’t so clear and I don’t know what to say.
We listen to the news in the car and on a good day watch it when my son hasn’t decided he is king of the remote. The presidential debates have been a hot topic, and as a former social studies teacher, this warms my heart! I am so excited that she’s excited about our country and government. This is when the seeds are sewn to become active participants in our democracy. I want to talk about it with her, but it’s hard to without using swear words and hate speech. So much for democratic discourse, but she knows that something is not right, she senses something is…different about this election, and she’s curious.
“Why is everyone yelling about Trump? Why is everyone so angry?” She asks.
Oh. Why? Why do I feel like I’m watching lunchroom bickering between cliques?
How do I answer this question respectfully? You see, I want to tread lightly. I don’t want my political opinions to be pushed on my daughter. I want her to think for herself. So I use the age old Socratic technique, I ask the question back.
“Why do YOU think everyone seems so angry?” I ask.
“Well, I don’t know. It just seems like everyone is arguing all of the time, why can’t they just be nice?” She says.
Why can’t they just be nice?
It seems like my 8-year-old may have just uncovered the question we’ve all asked ourselves dozens of times in nearly every situation imaginable. The pharmacist, the cashier, the lady standing in front of us in line to the bathroom, the boys across the street, why can’t they just be nice?
Seriously, that is a good question.
The truth is being nice is not enough. Being civil is dull, boring, and gets no attention. Being BOLD, ENTHUSIASTIC, CRUDE, POWERFUL, these are the characteristics that get you noticed and make mountains move in the political world. Nice? Well, that’s just for us regular folks who prefer a more peaceful existence. But I can’t tell her that. I can’t disillusion her view of the world and how our democracy works. I have to censor.
As she gets older and starts considering the opinions of others, navigating her way in the sea of life, the questions are only going to get bigger and harder. I am going to long for Zach Morris’s ability to “time out.” This is a far cry from the “but whys?” of toddlerdom because even when I see the question coming, even when I know what she is going to say before it even comes out of her mouth, I’m still caught off guard.
“Mom, wouldn’t it be great to have the president be a girl?”