Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Sheltering Children

My sister-in-law probably wouldn't say that my children are sheltered, but I would. I think all parents shelter their children as much as they can for as long as they can. One of the ways in which my children have been sheltered is that we don't watch tv news much. As Barbara Kingsolver says in her essay "The One-Eyed Monster, and Why I Don't Let Him In" (in Small Wonder), "people very rarely get killed at our house, and I'm trying to keep it that way." I never even saw any of the 9/11 coverage; it upset my kindergartener, who was home with chicken pox. We do have a rule about movies: sex is okay, but not violence. They can watch Love Actually but not Die Hard.

Is it hypocritical of me to say that I don't believe in willful ignorance and then try to keep my children ignorant of some things? I don't think so. The younger one is almost 12, and the older one is 14 and a half. "As long as I can" is running out. Continuing to shelter them much will just turn into the kind of pointless exercise that this poem by Billy Collins describes:

The History Teacher

Trying to protect his students' innocence
he told them the Ice Age was really just
the Chilly Age, a period of a million years
when everyone had to wear sweaters.

And the Stone Age became the Gravel Age,
named after the long driveways of the time.

The Spanish Inquisition was nothing more
than an outbreak of questions such as
"How far from here to Madrid?"
"What do you call the matador's hat?"

The War of the Roses took place in a garden,
and the Enola Gay dropped one tiny atom
on Japan.

The children would leave his classroom
for the playground to torment the weak
and the smart,
mussing up their hair and breaking their glasses,

while he gathered up his notes and walked home
past flower beds and white picket fences,
wondering if they would believe that soldiers
in the Boer War told long, rambling stories
designed to make the enemy nod off.

Since we're all going to shelter our children to some extent, if we can, I think we should show them what we fight wars to defend--the things we love--before they see too much of what we fight wars to destroy.

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