When Ignorance can still be Bliss for kids
I don’t think I’ll ever forget the most overwhelming feeling I had when we were driving our baby girl home from the hospital for the first time (she, all five pounds six ounces of her, strapped into her car seat): that everyone is someone’s baby. The realization hit me so hard, I couldn’t stop crying; everyone in this world was once a precious, loved, sweet little babe. No matter who they are right this second, at some point, every single person on this earth was a sweet, vulnerable, loveable little baby. The realization made me feel so much love for everyone and understand, all of a sudden, how profoundly BIG it is to have a child of your own, a child that will grow up in this big world.
This big world. I know now the soul-consuming love a parent feels for their child, and I’m sure my mom and dad never imagined raising daughters who would one day be confronted with bullying, rape, bulimia, and events like the Night Stalker, the Space Shuttle explosion, and later, 9/11. I can imagine now the depth of fear and sadness that they must have felt, experiencing these things alongside us. They were loving, reassuring parents, and for that I will be unceasingly grateful. I think about them today, in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings, and my heart hurts for the anguish they’ve felt parenting my sister and I, because I feel it now too. How do you talk to your kids about atrocities like these? Mister Rogers said “Look for the helpers,” and I love that and know that I will share that with my girl when someday the situation requires it. This morning, though, the biggest news in her world was the blue (glitter, shh) ‘fairy dust’ she discovered sprinkled all over her garden fairy house she’d made yesterday of sticks and flowers. She gasped, eyes huge, and exclaimed “Fairies! They’re REAL, MOM!” and my heart simultaneously grew six sizes and ached with the purity and sweetness and six-year-oldness of it all.
For now, our little girl in this big world is still in a bubble. She’s been through the death of a great-grandparent and an aunt and uncle’s divorce; she’s dealt with a bully in her kindergarten classroom and another at summer camp. But we never watch the news around her or listen to it with her in the car, and we have been ridiculously lucky that she has not been exposed to more adversity in her short time on earth. I know that day is coming, when she will hear something from a friend at school or, eventually, begin to learn about the more awful parts of human history like slavery and The Holocaust. Our plan is to be honest with her in the most age-appropriate ways possible, and to answer her questions but not offer more than she can digest, ideally. I also know that my heart is going to break a little bit with each piece of information she acquires.
At some point we all learn more about this big world we share: the good and the bad, the tough and the sublime, the overwhelming love and the evil that drives people to plant bombs and kill innocent people. Discovering life’s realities seems to be an inevitable part of growing up. Also at some point, though, we all figure out how to keep moving forward (hopefully we all do, right?) and living life with as open a heart as possible. Until then, this is my wish: that she may she hold on to her innocence – her blissful ignorance – for as long as possible. And, may she be just as enchanted by the fairy dust in our garden tomorrow morning as she was today.