The Buddha’s parents tried to shield their son from all the evils of the world. I know exactly how they felt.
My son is 12 and he already knows that history is filled with ugly bits. I walked him across the field where Pickett’s Charge took place and tried to get him to imagine what it was like to be under fire the whole way, watching your friends be hit and hoping you weren’t next. He knows about persecutions – of the Indians, of the Blacks, the Irish, the Jews, and everyone else. We have talked about war and poverty and starvation and cancer and homelessness and slavery. He already has a heart that leaps to defend others who are being picked on, even as it is hesitant to defend himself.
Mostly he has known about the ugly bits as a general concept, not a specific incident. Through 6th grade that’s how history gets taught in school. There was a lot of emphasis on heroes and heroines – he wrote a report and acted the part of Louis Braille in 4th grade. Once you hit 7th grade, though, it’s time for the real stuff to be known. The first novel assigned this year was about a black child growing up in the South in the ‘30s. The second one was about a Jewish child growing up in Germany at the same time. Then, thankfully, came Tom Sawyer. But another teacher assigned a research paper. The holocaust – any aspect of it or just a general overview. Because of his friends and his family he chooses to write about the pink triangles – homosexuals in the concentration camps.
History in general and World War II in particular are things I’ve studied a lot (mom is the one to turn to for math or languages). So I pull out a general history of the war that has a brief but solid overview and then we go to the library and get some more books. That’s enough to do for now. I don’t tell him to start reading. We bring them home and they sit there. Then today he starts the reading sitting at the kitchen table. Him concentrating on the big book and me painting little toys but mostly ready to answer any questions.
“The first camp is Dachau. … Yes, Auschwitz is another. … Look a picture showing all the different colored triangles, that might be good for an illustration.” Then a pause and without really looking up from the small figure I’m painting I say, “I hate that you have to study this. Almost as much as I hate that it happened.” Even as I say it I know it isn’t “correct” but it is true. I should have the phrases reversed. I should hate the murder of millions the most but I am a father and that is not how I feel. A little later I tell him we will watch a comedy tonight and we both know this is not an optional activity, not if he is going to get to sleep.
I am not glad he is being taught this piece of history even though I know it is essential he learn it. Anne Frank. The ovens. The showers. Everyone has to know this – even if it’s another version featuring Stalin or Pol Pot or any of the others who did the same things. I watch his face as he reads and looks at the photographs. I see a little bit of it start to sink in because no one can ever take it all in at once. At that moment I don’t want him to know at all. I want to keep him in a world of StarFox and Darth Vader and grandparents who show up unexpectedly to take you out for pancakes.
I cannot shelter my son from the world and I cannot turn him into the Buddha. But, oh, how I want to.