She is older than I know

We were moving from books ‘n milk to the brushing of the teeth, stations two and three of a five-station, post-dinner nightly journey that ends with lullabies in bed and, for the elder and more insomniac of the pair, rambling conversations about the larger questions of life.

All this rhythm and ritual has been road-tested by years of parenting and a statistically significant number of controlled experiments (no ritual? bedlam!). It’s no simple matter, to ease their young bodies and minds from the hurly-burly of the day into the waiting arms of Morpheus. Before, I would never have put such stock in this kind of stuff–in fact, I would have considered it far more “routine” than “ritual,” and derided it. No longer. I’ve learned.

I had just finished reading Maurice Sendak’s In the Night Kitchen to the boychild whilst the girlchild bore a hole in page after page of her latest American Girl historical yarn We were gathering our things, and the boychild was already heading into the bathroom on Mama’s back.  I had been thinking something as I was reading Night Kitchen.  I’m not sure what led me to it, but I made the judgement call that his older sister was old enough to hear a little something about the slings and arrows that fly around the books they read.

nightkitchen“You know, some folks don’t want kids to read that book,” I say, pointing to Maurice Sendak’s sweet, quasi-Dadaist tale of a boy’s dreamtime adventures.

“What does that mean, ‘Don’t want kids to read the book’?”

“Well, they don’t want school or town libraries to stock the book, and they write letters and wage campaigns for the libraries not to make the books available to the public.”

“Why, Baba?” she asks.

“Some folks are uncomfortable that it includes pictures of the boy naked.” I assume that’s the main complaint. Otherwise there’s some kind of anti-Oliver Hardy movement that I’m unaware of.  Why every cook in “The Night Kitchen” is a Oliver Hardy lookalike remains one of life’s mysteries.

“That’s crazy!” she says, and I agree with her.

“Yep. Some folks read picture books to kids that they’ve just plucked out of the bath, which they’ve usually taken naked, often splashing next to siblings who are also naked.  I don’t totally get it myself why seeing another kid naked in a book, most likely right after you were naked in the bath, is any kind of big deal.  But lots of people get upset about lots of different things.”

She carefully places her bookmark in her book.  This time it was a torn piece of cloth. Other bookmarks: Kleenex tissue, scraps of paper, swizzle sticks, found wrappers.

“You know, the guy who wrote that had a man sweetie. I’m not sure if he had kids, but I know his lifetime sweetie was a man.

“Really?”  She takes in info like this with a new depth of interest, I note.

“Yep. Though I don’t think it was that that people objected to. Most of his life most people didn’t know.  It’s just the nekkid kid that upsets folks.”

We begin to walk into the bathroom.  Her brother, ahead of us through this whole process, was now exiting the bathroom on Mama’s back, and headed to their shared bedroom for station four (pick out clothes for tomorrow).

“You know, Harry Potter’s another book some folks don’t want to have in public libraries.” I know I’m bringing out the big guns here.

“What?!! What is it about Harry POTTER?!!”  There is no overstating the degree of passion she holds in her heart for all things Potter. We haven’t even gotten past the third book (at seven, it’s a bit too scary for her, yet) and she’s only just now seen the first movie.  But she would sell all of us off to a traveling circus for just ten minutes inside of Hogwarts.

“Well. Some Christian folks feel like the book, by celebrating witches and witchcraft and magic, somehow is anti-Christian.” Admittedly, I may not have been making the most informed, persuasive case. I was doing the best I could.

“Just because you believe in magic doesn’t mean you’re against Christians,” she says. “I mean, wasn’t Jesus Christ a magician?  Kind of?”

“I think lots of people would probably think that was a very apt way to put that. Plenty of Christians even.” We hold magic in high regard in our family, and right now it stands for nearly all things ineffable, spiritually abstract, and dearly held.

By now she was squeezing just a little too much toothpaste on her toothbrush as she stood on the stool at the sink.

Some opportunities avail themselves, and when they do, we are honor-bound to take them up, and prepare our kids (even if ever-so-gently and by degrees) for the fact that some of those slings and arrows are going to hit them.  Plus hell, I’d already opened the whole Harry Potter is the antichrist door.  Why not finish off by indicting that embattled little penguin family?

“Another book some folks object to is And Tango Makes Three,” I say as casually as I can construe.  (It goes without saying that every good kid’s book that features alternative families, especially those with same-sex parents, is in our family library and familiar to, if not especially beloved by, our kids.)  Interestingly, this time there’s no surprise at all on her face. She just holds the tooth paste tube and the toothbrush in air, and looks at me with that special kind of youthful inquisitiveness that says, “I know what I believe is true. Now I want to hear what you’re going to say.”

I go on to state what is perhaps now, to her, the obvious.

“Some people don’t like it that it’s two dad penguins, and not a mom and a dad penguin.” Brief pause. Then, as if I have to defend the poor birds: “Even though it’s a true story.”

She is older than I know. Because the next statement was hers, not mine.

“I think I know why people feel like that, Baba.”

“Really, Punkin? What do you think?”

“I think the two dad penguins are different than what they know.  And they’re afraid of what they don’t know. And they react to their being afraid by being angry.”

Lord love me I swear that’s what she said. And with that, she put the toothbrush in her mouth, looked at herself in the mirror, and began to brush carefully around her wobbly front baby tooth.

15 thoughts on “She is older than I know”

  1. Just to get this off my chest: any series that is as invested in the power of love as Harry Potter is, in my mind, an essentially Christian book. For what it’s worth.

    Speaking of love: your girlie is a wonderful reflection of the love that surrounds her at all times. What a beautiful heart and mind.

  2. I agree with the above commenters. She is amazing and your narration here is wonderful. You write beautifully. Also, I love that magic is held in such regard in your house. It was definitely that way in my childhood home too. I have made many a fairy house in my lifetime and plan on making many more.

  3. Yes, they have an uncanny sense that something’s amiss when people turn to hate. At Pride a few years ago our daughter – then 6 or 7 – saw a woman parading around at the sidelines with a sign denouncing our families as unnatural. I think we tried to shield her from it but she picked up on the vibes immediately and later, on the way home, she tried to make sense of it. You know, she said, I think this woman doesn’t have any friends, that’s why she’s against us. She still occasionally talks about that incident. It was the first – and hopefully so far – only time that she came across such blatant homophobia.

  4. Hello old chum…I have missed reading your words. I have loved, loved “watching” that girl grow up. She makes me shiver with her thoughts and observations, and I can’t wait to see what she becomes. Good job Baba!

  5. Many thanks, the lot of you. (And welcome, VLC and Solitary Diner!)

    I am a very very lucky person. This is such a very delicate tightrope (protect/prepare protect/prepare). I had no idea they’d eventually help us all along it. Or that they really have been paying attention all these years.

  6. This brought tears to my eyes. I’ve told my girl since she first started talking about love and marriage that sometimes two girls or two boys pair up and actually! You don’t have to pair up at all. It was a super-easy conversation, because I had friends to use for context and friends who remind me always it’s totally fine to put two pink pegs in the Life car, just like it’s fine to put our three-person family into the four-person table at every restaurant. That was sort of the way it came out for me, anyway. I count my blessings that my friends reminded me how early we consciously or unconsciously teach “straight is right, gay is wrong” with our simplest actions unless we are self-aware. We had the talk when she was still young enough for it to be a totally normal conversation, which as you know it can absolutely be if the parent herself is not freaked out.

    And then I was talking about something pop-culture-ish at Thanksgiving and one of my sisters-in-law made this face that made it clear she’s probably teaching my nieces and nephews to fear what they don’t understand. I looked at her and I could tell my feelings were written all over my face and my ears were burning and she saw what I was going to say and walked away. I wanted to sit every one of my nieces and nephews down right then and have a talk. It occurred to me, then, that my older nephews who are in college don’t need that talk, though, because they have friends who have been raised by two moms or two dads or are homosexual themselves. I’ve never heard the derisive snort from the kids.

    It seems turning over cultural prejudice takes a few generations. I have very high hopes that our kids’ generation is the one that will get over gayness. I don’t know — I still don’t think we live in a totally post-racial or post-feminist society, but the more kids like your wise daughter there are out there, the greater the chance for understanding. It must really suck to be the normal one when the world is reacting like you’re bad or different. I was reading a Vanity Fair article this morning about Ken Kesey and remembering when Randall realized he wasn’t going to be able to convince Nurse Ratched he wasn’t really crazy.

    I’m not articulate enough to say what I’m thinking, or perhaps I’m scared of it coming out wrong. I don’t want you or your kids to have to feel like Randall. Because you’re not crazy. They are.

  7. I read this with the tender gaze of another parent on the playground as a sibling too young for a certain structure scrambles up with a look of concentration and will. It isn’t, of course that the child isn’t being watched, it’s that the fall or the triumph are something we all share at some point. Our three daughters have a mom and a dad at home, but they have a nana and a ciocci—”out” is not discussed, no specifics are addressed head on, I shamefully breathe a sigh of relief when the Grandparents Breakfast splits them up, Nana goes to one daughter’s and Ciocci goes to another—not for me, for them.

    We gently preach love, when they say a classmate doesn’t believe in Santa I say, “How sad for them. Please don’t let their beliefs change how you believe.” It isn’t perfect, I am honestly frightened, but this post lowers my shoulders a bit. Another parent gazing tenderly at a child. There are many of us believing in love and guardedly hoping that we can navigate this terrain.

    I’ve likely not made sense, but this did make my night.

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