Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Why Mama, why?

The boy is almost three.  A few months ago he started in with the occasionally “why, mama, why”. We thought it was cute, plus I had always said that I was really going to make an effort to answer all my kids’ questions and really pay attention to them. So the other day we were watching some show on tv with pirate ships and the ships’ cannons were shooting at another ship, so he asks “why shooting, mama, why?” and of course I answer that that’s what pirates do, they have cannons on their ships to protect themselves (he gets PG answers, of course) and they navigate the seas to rob other ships and fight, cause… that’s what pirates do. He nodded like it all made perfect sense and went on with his life. The next day, we’re in the middle of his naptime routine and he starts asking me about the cannons again. “Why cannons, mama, why?” So I repeat the above answer and move on to “why shooting, mama, why?” well, I answer, because that’s how pirates defend themselves, with guns and swords and cannons, you remember when you dressed as a pirate you had a gun and a sword, right? “why boom, mama, why?” well, I answered, because cannons have a ball inside them that shoots out and goes boom and breaks the other ship. And so on and so forth for quite a while. And then somehow I hear myself answering the 34th question about the cannons with: they’re like big guns, except cannons shoot at ships and guns shoot at people, and the boy: guns break people, mama? At this point, I had an out of body experience whereby I was looking at myself sitting on the armchair with my almost three year old in my lap, wondering how the heck I had gotten myself into this conversation that I had no idea how to handle and I was yelling at myself, shut up, shut up, shut up!
But of course I didn’t shut up, shut up, shut up… I went on to explain how guns shoot a little ball (cannons shoot a big ball) and if the little ball hits a person they get a really bad owie and bleed and can even die, as in they go to heaven with the angels.
And I swear to you, out of body me was staring at me, shaking her head in horror and going change the freaking subject you moron! But, well, I wasn’t paying attention to out of body me, so the conversation continued for quite a while.
So this little event, in which I did a truly horrible job of both explaining and avoiding what I consider a really sticky subject for such a small kid has got me thinking about what I should’ve, could’ve, would’ve done.
I mean, how do I explain violence, and firearms, and death to a toddler. And really, should I be explaining it at all or should I have changed the subject and left him wondering about it, albeit for a really short time considering the average toddler’s attention span. I honestly don’t know.
Part of the problem is that I don’t know how I feel about the subject myself, so I don’t know exactly how I want to handle it with the kids.
Obviously, having grown up in Texas gun use and gun ownership was pretty common. Most people I know had some sort of firearm in their house. I mean, even my extremely liberal Dad, who I’d be hard pressed to believe ever shot at anything in his life (and he was a young man during WWII) had a rifle at home, he even went so far as to have cartridges.  I’m pretty certain I have the basic knowledge to load and shoot a gun or rifle myself. (whether I actually hit the target is another story!) But I live in Italy, where guns are the devil and rifles are only used for hunting by those fanatics, plus you’re not allowed to shoot at an intruder in your house anyway so what would be the point of owning one? And so my own view of firearms has changed over time. I still think that my kids will need to learn about firearm safety, and I’ll probably take them to a shooting range at some point so they know what they’re dealing with (hey, you never know, what if the world ends and we have to go back to hunting and gathering?), but do I really want my toddler to understand that the real version of that toy he’s playing with will actually kill someone? How do we keep our children innocent, when we’re surrounded by violence? And, no, I’m not judging it, though I don’t like it this is the world we live in. So what do I tell him when he asks about these things? Cause if I avoid the questions I’m afraid he’ll read in my reticence that it’s a forbidden, therefore interesting, subject, but I don’t want to fall in the too much information trap either, I mean he’s not even three yet. And also, there’s a lot of violence in the history of mankind, do I simplify history or change it to explain away some of the unsavory things that happened. Cause what if we watch “The Sword in the Stone” and get into a whole drawn out “why” sequence there, I mean, how am I supposed to explain the middle ages?
And all this leaves me wondering, I have many, many years of “why mama, why” ahead of me and this includes conversations that are possibly even scarier than death and violence, like sex, should I just start implementing a no question policy at my house?
But seriously, how do you deal with the tough questions?

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