you spelled eviscerate wrong, dear


All this to say: we live in terrible times. Sure, there are several things that are profoundly awesome: new technology is magical, and the culture of childhood has been quietly (or screamingly) revolutionized over the last thirty years. But there is absolutely no good news in the world, pretty much anywhere. Glaciers the size of Connecticut are cracking from the poles, our own country is caught in a political cycle of blame and lies, we swim in a culture of cruelty, there are still terrorists we can’t find, diseases we can’t cure, and a black cloud hangs over us.

Yet with our own children, we escape into a totally alternate universe. We count numbers, we marvel at birds, we see them make decisions between blue-green and green-blue, and we marvel at their acrobatics. Has there ever been a time in history when the world we describe for our kids – and the world as it really is – has been so mind-bendingly incongruent?

How long do you wait until you’re honest about the way things really are? How old must they be? What do you tell them in the meantime when the inevitable filters through? If you feel so helpless about the world, knowing full well you have no real power to change anything about the environment, or politics, or why people are so frightened and racist, what makes you continue creating little utopias for them?

Was it always this bad? Are these the questions that every sensitive parent has asked since the ages were dark?

0 thoughts on “you spelled eviscerate wrong, dear

  1. wottop

    Imagine trying to explain to your child that Daddy is in another country for the sole purpose of killing other people while trying to stay alive himself.
    It might have been easier in the ’40s when the cause appeared to be just. Was it any better because the people he was killing were from an “evil race”?

  2. chm

    They’re mostly new questions, and they’re asked now because of the culture of childhood has changed so radically. But had the sensitivity to childhood as a fully distinct phase of life been in place before now, I think sensible parents would have been asking the same questions in any age.

  3. doubledown

    On balance, life has never been anything other than a raw deal. You live, then you and everyone you know eventually dies. That sucks and that’s as good as it gets!
    So, the important thing is to help other people. That and have a good time along the way as much as possible.
    The beauty of it is that kids pretty much already know this. Sharing isn’t that hard a concept to learn, and watching kids put it into practice you can see the delight they exhibit when doing it. Also, most kids like to have a good time.
    The only hard part is how to keep that going once you get old.

  4. Sean

    As Americans in 2010, we live with more security, more comfort, more fun, and more ease than any human beings at any point in geography or history. The things our government does that are questionable, are openly questioned by our fellow citizens, and there is a vibrant debate about what our responsibilities are to fight these injustices.
    And we can fight them with money, with activism, with voting, with simply WRITING. There was a time, less than a decade ago, when there was no forum for people to simply express their outrage to several thousand strangers, unless you were good friends with a big newspaper editor, or had paid your dues and gone to college.
    Perhaps each of us individually can’t do much to curb global climate change, but we’re aware of it and we’re all working in concert to change things. The wars we are fighting are actively dissected and discussed, and peace is being sought be a large enough set of voters that our combat troups are now out of Iraq.
    The Great Depression of 2010, which should have been worse than 1930, was more or less averted because cooler heads and smart market manipulators came in and stopped it. Our economy isn’t great, but living unemployed in America is to be more comfortable and happy than a King in the 1500s.
    Virtually all of the information that our species has amassed in the last 25,000 years is now floating in the ether, and any question you have, you can pull out your phone and ask, and the answer is yours. Our kids can choose between blue-green and green-blue because the crayon pack has gone from 8 to 133.
    Our lives are so easy, we hire people to burn off all of our extra calories, simply because we like the way we look when we’re skinny. Think about that. We eat too much, then spend money to hire people who help us burn the extra calories, because it’s fashionable to look like we eat very little. Royalty in the 17th century lived on 1600 calories a day.
    It used to be that all we had to fear was fear itself, but now, all we have to stave off boredom is to invent fear and outrage. If Heaven is a place where nothing ever happens, my guess is that humans would have to invent TV and politics to fill the endlessness, and maybe that’s what we’ve already done.

  5. Anne

    Let the children play in Eden while they can. By adolescence, the world will be very much with them via the media, friends, and classroom.
    Our son had just started 4th grade at a new school when 9/11 happened. At home we had the TV on constantly, and those images of the falling towers played over and over and over. I should have known better: It was too much for a 9 year old. He became very anxious (without articulating his fears) and a few days later that same week, he ran away from school… resulting in the principal scouring city streets for our boy in his car. (He found Kevin, thank God.) I believe Kevin was simply overwhelmed by being the new kid at school AND by the trauma of watching the attack on our largest city in such detail.
    I myself had a traumatic time of it during the Cuban missile crisis, and went to bed every night in our CT suburb of NYC fully expecting to see a mushroom cloud blossom on the horizon.
    Not advocating we be ostriches when it comes to what our kids know. I believe that, as parents, we can help filter and contextualize and process data about our scary, sad world.

  6. Neva

    I hear you Ian. I think this sensation of the world being worse than ever is simply new to us Gen Xers who had an easy time of it back in the 70s/80s/90s. My only real tramatic event of memory is gas lines in the 70s and the hostage crisis in Iran and that sounds like nothing compared to what is going on now. Or, perhaps it is because of 24 hr news stations that we are just more aware of the horror in our world.
    Anyway, I believe every generation but our parents may have had to worry about horrible world circumstances for their own children. I have read many fictional accounts of WW2 and am always floored by how in the world you the children ever got over all that trauma (read Book Thief for example or that Guernsey book).
    I think you simply love your children, answer questions as they come up with developmentally appropriate answers and tell them you’ll take care of them and keep them safe. Now, if only I could believe that that was 100% possible, maybe I’d sleep better at night too.

  7. CM

    I don’t think the questions are new…weren’t our parents terrified of war when they were kids, whether it was during WWII or the Cuban Missile Crisis or the Cold War? Didn’t they have air raid drills in schools? I’m sure there was always a question of how much to tell kids. I guess nowadays they can find things out on the internet before you want them to know, so there’s that.

  8. christi

    I agree with Sean and Anne, too. But I also wonder about heros; when my dad was growing up in WWII, he was terrified but also had some sense of who was doing brave things and how they were being celebrated (and of course mourned).
    And also, my kids started asking hard questions because they would catch snip-its from NPR (I specifically remember my 5 year old asking me what it means to “bleed to death.” Nice).

  9. emma

    I don’t think the questions are new at all. I agree with what Neva says, but would add to it that we tell our children that although we may not be able to “fix” the problems in the world, we can absolutely make a difference, even if it is only helping out an elderly lady in your neighbor, recycling and using your own grocery bags, going and tutoring a child at school regularly. I was astounded today when I read the statewide EOG results from my son’s school. They had the results broken down into races. There are 197 white children at his school – 223 black children. 70some percent of the white kids passed both reading and math EOGS whereas only 30something percent of black kids passed both. That blew me out of the water and something needs to be done to fix it. Can I fix the entire problem? No, but I could help one of those kids.
    If you can make the world that you touch a better place then you are setting a good example for your children and teaching them how to live a fulfilling life.

  10. jp

    My kids won’t ever know a world where it’s crazy to think a black man could be the American president. And, in a few years, they won’t (I hope) remember world where two men who love each other can’t get married.
    So it’s not all bad, you know?
    Maybe watch Mad Men and think how it would have been to be the mother of a daughter who was born in 40s and had to choose between being Joan or Peggy. It is *much* better to be a woman in the US today than it’s been to be a woman at almost any other time and place in history.

  11. jp

    Oh, also, I distinctly remember being absolutely terrified of nuclear holocaust when I was in fifth grade. It seemed imminent.

  12. Joanna

    jp, I’m guessing your fear was fueled by the 1983 made for TV movie, The Day After. Am I right? During our class discussion of the movie, I said I would simply kill myself if I survived the attack, rather than endure the fallout. It seemed like a rational approach to me, but my 8th grade teacher promptly referred me to the guidance counselor.
    I try to shelter my kids, ages 8 and almost 5, from all but what they need to live safely and considerately of others in their little world. NPR news is off if they’re riding with me.

  13. A. Nonny Nonny

    I was born in 1968. If ANY year was more fucked than that, I don’t want to know it. My early childhood was spent enduring Nixon, the gas crisis and disco. My adolescence – the Cold War, Reagan and Bananarama. The world has always been and will always be in danger of “exploding”, and yet we somehow manage, as a species, to stumble forward.
    I don’t have kids – not really sure at this point if I’ll ever have any, as I’m still looking for a woman who’ll put up with me – but if I did, I’m pretty sure they’ll be OK, and the world will go on, and they’ll probably even have Social Security.
    In other words, what Sean said.

  14. Scott

    JP and Joanna:
    I was about to reply to JP and say that it was 7th grade for me, but Joanna nailed the reason why. Interestingly, I never saw the TV Movie – rather the movie was in the news at the same time that our social studies class was studying the end of WWII. Reading about the devastation that was invoked by those “baby” bombs, seeing the pictures of the partially standing buildings was just too much – OK, just writing that sentence forced me to realize for the first time what 7th graders in 2001 must have felt. The images of 9/11 and Hiroshima are strikingly similar.
    Kids today – they’re fine. Their minds are adapting faster than we realize, they are assimilating information 100 times faster than we did. Our job, as parents, is to make sure the information going into them is modulated, regulated and screened. Let them stay kids for as long as possible.
    Ian – this entry was laced with depression. I hope that is not emblematic of real life.

  15. Debbie Conner

    It’s always been this bad. Actually, the past has been worse. Thanks to free enterprise, our standard of living, safety and accomodations exceed those that royalty partook a mere century ago. Think about it, with our little ipods, we have an entire orchestra that we can conduct at our fingertips!
    Have you the read about the 13th century plague, Attila the Hun, slavery, the Holocaust?
    The Bible says it so succinctly: “we live in a fallen world”.
    Speaking of the 13th century: it was warmer back then That’s where the name “Greenland” came was once farming territory, now it’s convered by ice. Do you know what they are finding as the glaciers retreat in the Alps? they are finding the remains of civilizations.
    Wake up, smell the coffee and thank you lucky stars (or God, if you believe) that you are alive today, rather than yesterday.

  16. Joanna

    only have a second so this won’t be developed or pretty, but was thinking . . .
    For Ian, for many of us with children, the world was never before this bad because before we did not have children. Now, we love someone we know we will not always be around to protect.

  17. ChrisM

    I agree with Sean’s take on this.
    As a boy, my mother (b. 1925) would tell me about her childhood in Ontario, Canada. I don’t think her experiences were that unusual for the time. In the 1920s, her father had a good job, owned a nice home, drove a new car, and had live-in help for his wife and children.
    Her mother, Florence, had Rh negative blood-type. Unfortunately, two of her six offspring had Rh positive blood-type and were born as “blue babies.” There was no treatment at the time so the babies died soon after birth. So much for my mother’s excitement about a new little brother or sister.
    The Great Depression came, and Grandpa Frank’s job soon went. Eventually there was almost no money for things like food or coal to heat the home, so the family routinely went hungry and, in the winter, slept with rugs on the bed to try to keep warm. To ease the loss of the babies, my mom was allowed to keep a beloved cat which eventually had a litter of adorable kittens. Because there was nothing to feed them, Grandpa Frank did something very common during those desperate times: drowned the kittens in a bucket.
    A few years later, my mother’s very kind and popular older brother developed a bleeding ulcer and was hospitalized. Medicine being what it was, he received a transfusion of the wrong type of blood. He died leaving a young wife and baby.
    How did my Grandparents choose to deal with the hand they were dealt? Abandon the family? Unburden themselves to their therapists? Drink themselves into a stupor? Commit suicide? In 1936, to support his family, Frank somehow managed to open his own mens clothing store. He worked six days a week for the next 40 years until he was 75 years old. They raised and supported their remaining 3 children and 16 grandchildren. On Sundays, they went together to Mass, got on their knees, prayed for the souls of their dead children, and expressed genuine gratitude to God for their many blessings. I eventually grew bored with my mother’s stories about the “old days”, but the older I get the more meaningful they become.

  18. dob

    Our economy isn’t great, but living unemployed in America is to be more comfortable and happy than a King in the 1500s.
    I don’t necessarily disagree with the thrust of Sean’s comments, but I absolutely take issue with this. It’s a myopic view of the world that can’t see that there are unemployed, homeless people in our country – and their children – who don’t have social safety nets, who don’t have a safe place to sleep, aren’t sure where their next meal is going to come from, aren’t able to take advantage of the incredible opportunities this country provides to those of us who were fortunate enough to be born into better circumstances. I daresay many of them would trade places with a king from the middle ages in a heartbeat.
    As for Ian’s larger point: our politics have always been venal and corrupt. That’s a given. The changes we’re making to our environment though? Absolutely unprecedented, and we’re doing fuck all to ameliorate their consequences. Oh, sure, humanity is going to survive them, civilization probably will too, but it’ll probably end up killing billions of people and the majority of the diversity of the animal life on the planet. Hopefully we’ll still have some natural functional complex ecosystems left when the dust settles.
    As for me and my child? We help where we see the opportunity, but all I think we can really do is bear witness.

  19. L

    Sean didn’t say “homeless with no safe place for their children to sleep,” he said “unemployed.”
    It is possible to be unemployed and not live under a bridge, just as it is possible to be both a wonderful and empathic person and a poor logician.

  20. dob

    Your logical correction would be warranted if the phrase was “living unemployed in America can be” instead of “living unemployed in American is”. As it stands, the construction clearly refers to all unemployed persons.


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