Sunday, May 23, 2010

I am not a squeamish parent in general. I try to tackle questions with as much honesty and forthrightness as I can humanly manage.

Cue recent discussion about what a "douchebag" really was:

Emily: "So boys are school are calling each other douche bags."
Me: "Do you know what a douche bag is?"
Emily: "No - what is it?"
Me: "Well, let's see. Many years ago, it was thought that ladies needed to clean out the insides of their vaginas, so they invented these bags filled with warm water. There was a hose that went inside your body and then you pushed the water into your vagina and let it come out. You know how "douche" is French for Shower? Ok, so essentially that is what they were used for..."
Emily: Silence.

More silence as she processes this.

Emily: "So the boys are calling each other Vagina Showers?"
Me: "Essentially, yes. Not as funny when you know what it means, right?"

Apparently, she shared this knowledge with the boys and the popularity of the word has plummeted.

That's me. Killing playground humor with knowledge.

Tonight however, I was caught off guard.

I can handle douche bag discussions. I can handle "what are penises used for?" and even bite back my smart aleck response of "If you're lucky, some mighty good things".... I can keep my hysteria under wraps when she has tried to massage me with the vibrator she found in my dresser with the phrase "Mama, you seem tense, let me massage you" as the hum of the pocket rocket came to life.

(And Yes, I have prayed, dear sweet jeebus, do not let her recall this when she finally figure out what those things WERE in her mothers dresser, because there is not enough therapy in the world - for either of us)

No, tonight we were watching a mediocre American History Documentary. I have taken to forcing her in front of them when I can find them as I feel slightly neglectful of her American History education. Since she has been in Canada for nearly 4 years now, she can tell you more about the Filles du roi of New France than she can of ANYTHING American.

While I don't view this as a totally bad thing, I also want her to know enough about American History that, should we return to the states while she is receiving her before college education, she would be able to get by without too much trouble. I am perfectly fine in the knowledge that she doesn't need the crazy indoctrination of  grade school history to be a perfectly Fine American. Maybe even one who is a bit more worldly and able to see that other places and peoples have histories as important and rich as our own little nation building fairy tale.

So, we had gotten through the first Europeans...onto the first colonies and into the Revolutionary War with very little problem. As Emily was born in New Hampshire and been through a majority of the New England states, she knew most of the place that were being discussed - Boston, Concord, Plymouth. Even in todays episode when they were discussing the industrial revolution and the fabric factories of Lawrence and Lowell, Mass - we could associate the history with places she knows.

I should have perked up when the building of the Erie Canal was being talked about. Now, we have seen many pieces of the Canal, as we like driving down that part of New York when we drive to the City, so I wasn't entirely tuned in to what was coming up.

Did you guess Slavery? Cause I was oblivious. Seriously.  I mean, as we were discussing why rivers and canals were so important to the economy of the US, no warning bells or whistles started sounding in my head:

"WAH! WAH! WAH! Uncomfortable moment coming ahead."

It was sneaky, this documentary. I was waylaid with a discussion of the wonders of the damn cotton gin when they got me. Bam! There it was. People being sold. Mothers having children taken from their arms. Free Men being kidnapped and sold back into slavery with no recourse.  The vague reference to "Light skinned women" and "breeding".

People who looked like Emily. Like her Father. But not like me.

Emily started to cry. It was the unfairness of it all. The terribleness of seeing women pleading for their children., and her ability to see herself in those children. Between tears she said "I don't LIKE this."

My mother instinct was to turn it off. Shield her from this. Mixed with that? Guilt. A terrible inability to explain Why to her that wouldn't sound apologetic or defensive or patronizing. An inability to vocalize why some people still hold very similar views - that some people are less than because of their skin color, or religion or sexual orientation.

I froze up a little. I didn't have any good explanations at hand.

What I finally came up with was "I know you don't like this - and I don't either - but it is really important to understand all of the parts of how America came to be - even the stuff that makes us terribly sad. The way we treated First Nations peoples...and later the way we treated Africans was just terrible.  But we can't pretend that it didn't happen or was different because we don't like it. Part of America has been thinking that we can boss other people around if we were stronger, or had better weapons, or more people. We got to do what we wanted because someone else was afraid of us and You are right - it isn't fair."

She was quiet.

"The Iraq War?", she queried.

"Yep, kind of like that too..."

and with that the documentary ended at the verge of the Civil War.

2 Baleful Regards:

2amsomewhere said...

I know you don't like this - and I don't either - but it is really important to understand all of the parts of how America came to be - even the stuff that makes us terribly sad.

As an adoptive father to a six-year-old daughter whose birth father is African American and birth mother is white, I fret over similar questions.

At our local child friendly museum, they have an exhibit involving Anne Frank, Ruby Bridges, and Ryan White. The Ruby Bridges exhibit has artifacts of Jim Crow era signage in addition to a life size replica of a classroom at the school Ruby attended.

We've been there a few times and I've talked with her about these things to give her context about why people were fussing so much about Ruby going to a school for white kids. She's not quite at the point where she fully understands, but I'm hoping that the uneasiness over the ugliness of past historical chapters can be mitigated.

Taking on a mature view of history is the successive discovery that getting to where we are now, for all its good and bad, required passing through a lot of chapters where some downright ugly things happened, not just in America but everywhere.

The concepts of civilization, self-determination, justice, and peace did not come about by default.

In the absence of these notions, it is not too far of a reach to see how our ancestors, driven by the hardship of survival and the scarcity of resources, and reinforced by maladaptive evolutionary neural circuitry that rewarded cruelty with pleasure (cf. Stanford Prison Experiment) , would have seen the conquest, killing, and enslavement of rival tribes as valid means of living to see another day with some comfort thrown in for good measure.

At some point, our species started to develop the capacity to empathize and envision the suffering that others endure. From this probably arose the moral codes that go on to become the golden rules of religious systems.

For all of the bloodshed of humanity's existence, the larger narrative is that there is a growing realization that we all will fall if we don't learn to transcend our hostility and wastefulness. The open question is whether we can learn and adapt before that fate is unavoidable.


Sarah, Goon Squad Sarah said...

It isn't fair at all, but teaching them the ugly truth is the best way we can stop it from ever happening again.

Also - I think vagina shower is hilarious. It wouldn't stop me from calling people that one bit.

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