The Bible instructs, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” Loathe to defy the teachings of Ephesians (well, maybe just a little bit excited to disregard that “[w]ives, submit to your own husbands” bit), I ordinarily try not to post here until I can tie the various strands of my thought into a pretty bow. But today, wrestling with questions of kids and exposure, I write in the hope of receiving grace from those who read.
The problem is preschool. Almost everyone I encounter assumes that Vivi goes to preschool or will begin doing so shortly. She doesn’t and probably won’t. If money were no object, I’d be on it like Lindsay Lohan and cocaine. I mean, what’s not to love? My three year-old currently sounds like a CD skipping repeatedly over the word “why?” (Case in point: Me: “Vivi, please put both hands on your plate when you clear it from the table.” Vivi: “Why?” Me: “So that food doesn’t fall on the floor.” Vivi: “Why don’t you want food on the floor?” Me: “Because then I have to clean the carpet.” Vivi: “Why?” Me: “Because we can’t leave old food on the carpet.” Vivi: “Why?” Me: “Because Stuey will eat it.” Vivi: “Why can’t Stuey eat it?” Me: “Because if it’s old, he’ll get sick.” Vivi: “Why?” Me: “Because food that’s perfectly healthy when it’s fresh can make people sick when it’s old.” Vivi: “Why?” Me (to Ian): “Seriously?!?! I’m not going to try to explain bacteria right now!”) I prefer the automatic “why” to the knee-jerk “no” of her twos, but I’d love to buy myself room for a few unjustified decisions or even just a single unquestioned statement. Ideally I’d sign her up for one of those A-list programs that teaches empathy and early literacy in Chinese and Spanish through play-based immersion in arts, music, and science. But the affordable options tend to be run by churches. If University Friends Meeting (where Viv and I regularly attend) offered preschool, we’d be golden; but, alas, the Light has yet to shine upon us. (Get it?!?! A Quaker tanning joke! Maybe the first ever.)
When a friend recently told me that she’d enrolled her kid in a preschool run by her church, I professed my envy. As I tried to explain why I hesitate to send Vivi to another church’s preschool, I realized that I had no idea what sort of inconsistency in message I fear. After she inquired into the beliefs of the Religious Society of Friends, I moved quickly through notions of tolerance and equality to my attendant support of gay rights. She said something along the lines of, “I don’t see what the conflict would be. We teach our kids that the act itself is wrong, of course. But we would never support discrimination against a person just because they make personal choices that the Bible says are wrong.” And there’s the hitch (or, refusal to let folks get hitched, in this case). First, I don’t believe homosexual intercourse is wrong, I believe it’s as right as heterosexual intercourse which means sometimes it’s a blessed act of love and sometimes it’s tawdry, or meaningless, or ill-advised, or just plain bad. Second, I don’t think gayness is a choice any more than it’s a choice to be good with numbers or like science rather than the language arts. Now I understand that this debate is a bit academic, even for me, since sodomy isn’t generally considered integral to pre-K education. But the gap between our approaches to this issue leads me to believe there may be real and significant differences between my beliefs and those taught at her preschool and others like it.
So what? In sending my children to a school, do I tacitly place my imprimatur upon its lessons? My gut says yes, yet I wouldn’t feel that I’d betrayed my deep commitment to evolution and happy endings by sending my kid to a high school science class that also discusses creationism or a literature course that criticizes Jane Austen, respectively. But I think that’s mostly because a high school student is old enough to weigh conflicting messages and come to an independent determination. Young children are definitionally impressionable. Do I send Viv to play with children who are being taught that the way in which some of her friends’ parents express their love is “wrong”? Of course I do. I generally don’t limit my friendships by political or philosophical belief (with the exception of the skinny jean debate; that’s just too broad a divide to bridge), why would I narrow my kids’ social circles that way? Isn’t cordoning folks off and only introducing each group to one viewpoint creating the type of environment in which the ism’s thrive? I think I expose my kids to what I consider to be the seeds of prejudice, but keep them from taking root by discussing the issues with them. But how do I do that if I’m not there to hear which competing messages get airplay?
Speaking of air play, the Blue Angels show coming to town raises another exposure issue. The Navy’s “flight demonstration squadron” amazes and delights children and adults alike with aeronautic feats. As a member of one of the traditional “peace churches,” I am a pacifist and intend to encourage my children to pursue that path as well. Like my mom before me, I will not allow them to play with water pistols, swords, or other faux weaponry as youngsters. But where do I draw the line? The Blue Angels are FUN! They only exist because the Navy does, but if I set out to deprive my kids of all the benefits of the U.S. Military, don’t I have to leave the confines of the borders it secures? I don’t want Jack Nicholson “on that wall,” and yet I understand full well that I’m a freerider of his being there. Still, the mission of the flying aerobatic team is to “enhance Navy recruiting.” If the stated purpose of the performance is anathema to my beliefs (after all, I didn’t just oppose JAG recruiting at NYU because of DADT – acronym much?), how can I justify allowing myself and my kids to enjoy it? Throw in the fact that my husband both is not a pacifist and loves the naval air shows, and I’m seriously tied up in knots.
Like the knots in the hair of the drunk homeless people with whom I found myself sharing a small elevator a few days ago. Part of the reason I love living Downtown is that my kids are exposed to all walks of life. But that didn’t stop me from acceding to my impulse to lower the stroller sun shades as physical barriers between my little ones and the dirty, inhibition-free fellow lift riders. Should it have? If I were really open-minded and sensitive to the humanity of the downtrodden, would I have acted differently? There must be a difference between exposing my children to things and leaving them exposed, right?
Please advise. I’m generally more familiar with adverbs than Proverbs, but I know that “[w]here no wise guidance is, the people fall, but in the multitude of counselors there is safety.”