Sunday, November 27, 2011

Innocence Lost

I'm not a big Pollyanna or anything, but I try to see the best in people.  That can sometimes lead to disappointment, but I try.  I teach my kids people are inherently good, even if that particular day is making me bite my tongue until it bleeds.

Maybe it's because I grew into an adult way too young that I try to shield them as best I can from the fact that--and I believe this--there are some people who are truly, at their core, evil.  I explain with the least amount and most gentle facts I can terrible events.  Now that my children are 10 and 7, that's becoming more and more difficult to do.  When we'd talk of my mom's passing, it was framed with she's living in heaven, and it's SO beautiful, and God needed her, lalalalala!  When, in kindergarten, my son learned about Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, it was civil rights for all!  Happy day! with no mention of pesky assassinations, lalalalala!  September 11th?  Bad people crashing into buildings.  Crazy individuals, no need to fear, lalalalala!  That's why it was one of the hardest things I ever did to stand back and watch my daughter realize there's evil in the world I can't fix.

About a month ago, we went with a girl scout group to Springfield.  Not having been there in quite some time, it was a nice trip.  We had the nice comfy bus, pleasant chatter, saw the capitol building, the old capitol, all good.  Then we went into the Lincoln Presidential Library.  They have done an AWESOME job of it, and if you haven't seen it recently, I highly suggest it.  The shows they have are stunningly done, and there are life size replicas of many points in Lincoln's life.  Do not touch, however, as many, many alarms go off, and you will be searched (don't ask me how I know this for a fact).  There's even a play area where kids can play dress up and experience toys of the era.  Really big fun, could have spent all day there.  One of the best things was seeing how the Civil War fit into the scope of Lincoln as a president and a family man, even if the face of a cabinet in near full opposition.  It was a truly enlightening experience.

It was the fact that there were so many exceedingly lifelike wax sculptures of people that gave my daughter pause.  We'd talked about slavery in bits and pieces, since many of the posters and textual areas of the library mentioned it.  She knew there were once people who thought it was ok to own others like property, and they were bad for doing so.  I think she thought of "owning" someone really as more like roommates, but I don't know for certain.  At one point we turned the corner, and there it was.  On a stage was a complex wax sculpture.  It depicted a kind of town square, where slave auctions were being held.  It was obvious a family was being broken up.  Whomever decided on the actual placing of the sculptures did it in a way that anyone would understand but that was also most apt to pluck at people's heartstrings, especially my 7 year old daughter's.  See, whenever I've seen pictures of this particularly heinous act, I've seen the big, strong Black men being sold.  Reason and logic say slave owners would want a strong pair of hands if they're buying slaves, leaving the women and children, as they pose too much of a burden on a plantation budget without the reward.  This depiction was different.  There were the slave owners or auctioneers on stage.  There was a man and a woman and a young boy all sobbing and reaching out to one another.  But in this case, the boy was with the man, and the woman, the mother, was being taken away.  The mother was being led away.  While her child screamed out for her.  While her husband reached out for her and cried too.

As adults, we know this is not an uncommon story.  We find sadness and empathy and heartsickness in this horrible page out of history.  This was my daughter's first brush with the up close and personal details of history.  I couldn't do a thing to shield her from it.  Had I hustled her away, my little quiz master would have asked questions about it all day.  Even as I stepped back and watched her little face, I expected questions in her rapid fire way, one after another, before the first one was even answered.  She said nothing.  Her eyes darted back and forth, and a frown formed on her face, as she tried to figure it out.  After a while, she asked "why can't the boy be by his mom?"  I had to remind her what this was a depiction of and then I knew I had to tell her this boy probably wouldn't ever see his mom again.  I've never seen a more terrified look on her face.

She recovered from her shock and terror, and she asked a few more questions that I answered as best I could.  Later, she was playing like her regular self.  In the weeks that have followed, I know she's thought of that day, because she's asked me other questions I can tell she's been mulling about in her head.  I know this isn't the roughest thing she'll ever learn, and I know there are so many moments to come where bad things will happen or have to be explained.  I don't live in a bubble and think nothing bad will ever happen, or I can make all the bad stuff go away.  But as a parent, to stand helplessly, while my child goes through anything difficult, even learning a concept or idea, is torture beyond measure.  I'm sure the real-life counterpart of the wax statue of the mother would say of her situation that watching her child experience a moment of pain was far, far worse than the lifetime of sorrow she endured.  I think that's the saddest part of this whole thing, the knowledge that mom can't make everything better, because kids should always believe moms can change the world.