End of the innocenceWritten by Michael Miller | Editor in Chief Emeritus | email@example.com
One of the great benefits of enrolling our 3-and-a-half-year-old son Evan into preschool has been the blossoming of his social interaction skills. Evan loves being with the other children — playing with toys, looking through books, running on the playground and singing songs about weather, holidays and other topics of discovery.
One of the unexpected side effects of this interaction has been the immediate impact on his vocabulary and behavior.
We still try to get Evan an afternoon nap, admittedly as much for us as for him; toddlers have all the constantly thrumming energy of a caffeine-fueled roadrunner with a rocket-wielding coyote on his tail. So getting him or his 1-and-a-half-year-old brother Sean to nap offers a quiet window in the afternoon. And it is either/or; they are physically incapable of napping at the same time; their DNA is coded to keep one awake if the other falls asleep during the day.
A week ago, I told Evan it was time to take a nap, and he responded, “I hate naps.”
I literally did a double-take; I did not know Evan had learned the word or concept of “hate,” and it upset me to hear him invoke the word so strongly.
“Where did you learn that word?” I asked.
“At school,” he said.
Intellectually, I understand that as Evan and Sean explore the world, they will be influenced by a great many people outside our control; some of those influences will be positive, some will be negative, and we’ll have to do our best to help them navigate the waters.
But emotionally, it rattled me to know the snake was already loose in the garden, whispering about hate to my little boy.
I talked to him about what a strong word “hate” is and about how hurtful such a word can be if applied to a person or something that person cares about. I am never completely sure he retains all of my ramblings, but he hasn’t used the word since.
Instead, he has taken to pointing an index finger at the object of his distaste, making “pa-chew, pa-chew” noises and saying he is “shooting” at it.
“Where did you learn that?” I asked.
“At school,” he said.
I have not inquired, but I am confident Evan’s preschool teacher is not spending class time teaching about the SoftAir Desert Eagle .44 Magnum Spring-Powered Airsoft Pistol and its practical usage compared to the SoftAir Sig Sauer SP2022 CO2 Gas-Powered Airsoft Pistol. My assumption is that other kids in the class (there are some 4- and 5-year-olds), play guns and Evan learned it from them.
I am not much of a marksman; the one gun within my reach will stop you in your tracks, as it is an awesome and magnificent weapon, but in general, the deer, bear and sasquatch populations are safe from me. My lack of enthusiasm for firearms, however, does not translate into any desire to limit or inhibit other people from exercising their rights with them. But I wasn’t ready to see my little boy running around firing imaginary bullets.
Again, I harbor no illusions that our boys will grow up in a vacuum, free from all negative or violent influences. Ten seconds of a commercial for “Star Wars: Clone Wars” features enough guns ‘n’ lasers to inspire a lot of “pa-chew” action. I spent a lot of childhood summer time running in the backyard, taking aim at white-armored stormtroopers and other imaginary bad guys, and I did not grow up to go around shooting people. But Evan still seems so little and innocent to me; anyone who stops his world to watch a few minutes of Elmo or Dora the Explorer should be sheltered from guns and hate.
I have read plenty of John Irving’s work; I know the potential disasters in being “World According to Garp” over-protective or too sheltering. I guess I just wasn’t ready to see my first-born son grow up so fast. For this Christmas, I’ll probably just buy him a copy of “Grand Theft Auto IV,” a subscription to HBO and a “MILF Hunter” T-shirt and get it over with.
A recent episode summed up this roller coaster ride. Friends of ours graciously hosted us at the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circus at the Lucas County Arena on Nov. 14. Evan was transfixed the entire time, watching the clowns, acrobats, elephants, tigers and sensory-overloading show.
At one point, a clown started a handclap beat that turned into a few arena-shaking moments of Queen’s “We Will Rock You.” The title phrase played three or four times and the show moved on.
Two days later, out of nowhere, Evan started singing, exactly on beat, “We will, we will hug you.”
I was warmed and pleased, impressed by his remembering the medley (another assumption on my part is that Evan’s preschool teacher is not leading the class through rounds of Queen songs) and happy to hear him focused on the most elemental of love’s expressions — a simple, familiar hug.
“The boy’s going to be all right,” I thought.
At that moment, Evan smiled, pointed his index finger at his baby brother, and sang, “We will, we will shoot you.”
I’m going to have to talk to that preschool teacher.
Michael S. Miller is editor in chief of Toledo Free Press. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.