This is a little embarrassing to post.
As a wildlife enthusiast, I should not admit to not taking my kids out into the wild often enough that my son has heard his first birdsong only after he’s been walking for three months…
But life is hectic with a one-year-old and a five-year-old doing dance and swimming lessons in winter, and even though Pamplona is a small city with wildlife all around (including BEAVERS in the river not 200 yards from my house as the crow flies) it’s damn hard to get out of the brick and concrete on a daily basis.
We do go to village on the weekend, where there’s plenty of birdlife (kites and bee-eaters etc…) , but the evening birdsong is not something I’ve experienced with the kids recently.
I consider myself privileged
To see hills at a distance from
My window over the garden,
Graced by more than mere sparrows;
But my son has just heard birdsong
Today, for the first time, I had time to
Take him to city’s edge and embrace the
Twilit twittering of tits and thrushes
Scolding one another in the gloaming,
And experience, absent the ubiquitous din,
A blackbird’s sonorous cry to spring,
And say, “listen, hear the birdies sing.”
This is straight up, in that it concerns a real kid, my kid. I’m not worried about anything she’s doing, nor do I need Supernanny to come rescue me from my own idiocy as my three-year-old destroys my house and life. I’m pretty ok as a parent, but I do have a small concern, about the topic of religion. There lies the “certain extent” – I’m not sure to what extent I’m going to follow any suggestions.
My daughter has just learnt about Jesus (the Christ one – since we live in Spain you have to qualify). This was inevitable. Two of her great uncles are priests and they live with her grandparents. I’ve no big problem with the idea. She’s been baptised and we go to the mass presided over by one of the uncles in the small village church when we’re there for Sunday lunch. She knows enough to be fairly quiet while in mass, too. I lost my own faith a long time ago now. I’m still spiritual but the church – especially the Irish church, but this isn’t the time to talk about mass “graves” and manslaughter charges – makes me mad.
Unlike Richard Dawkins, who seems to have his knickers in a twist about even reading fairy tales to kids, I have no major problem with having kids believe in magical beings. Their lives are filled with imaginary beings, from the Easter Bunny, to the Tooth Fairy, to the Three Magic Kings and Santa Claus. When a child straddles cultures, like my daughter, they’re nearly doubled. What’s another one going to do? While Dawkins claims to never have believed in Santa – which might be a reason he’s such a dour sonofabitch – my daughter does, and furthermore believes that he comes when she goes to Ireland, where he’s called Santy.
Looking at it scientifically, I can’t see any difference between having her believe in a big magical old guy with a beard who brings gifts to good kids and lumps of coal to the bold, and another magical old guy with a beard who rewards the good with a nice afterlife and makes the bold burn in fiery coals of hell. (Hell, a place that the pope doesn’t even believe in any more, making it worthless even as a children’s swear.) I’ve said that before. The advantage of God, is that the threat of his displeasure works all year round, not just before Christmas.
While Dawkins is against all magic, the extremists on the other side of the divide would, ironically, probably agree with him about fairytales – they were the wankers who said reading Harry Potter would make kids want to practice magic etc. at the same time failing to see that religion is nothing other than a belief in magic – though our parish priest (the one informing my daughter about her friend Jesus) has basically admitted in mass that the miracle of the loaves and the fishes was at best a bit of hand-quicker-than-the-eye trickery if not just a show of solidarity that got the crowd moving: the old, you show yours first and then I’ll show mine after routine with the grub.
Getting back to God and Santy, we don’t need the threat of divine displeasure of anyone (or the threat of displeasure of the teacher at the crèche, which I’ve heard some parents do). If she’s bold (Irish for naughty in case you haven’t copped), then I am sad, and that should be enough. And it usually is, so far (touch wood). She’s a sensitive child. She worries about people littering, and has a hard time comprehending that people do what she’s been told is wrong, and would not now do herself. I’ve had to explain that there are bold and even bad people in the world – she’s had belongings stolen already, and she kinda gets it. I have explained that the big bad wolf is only doing what wolves do and that we eat little piggies too, and she gets that – though she did think I was only messing at first, like I do when I say the bird she’s pointing to is an elephant and she replies with an exaggerated “Nooo! It’s a magpie! (or whatever it actually is). She understands that animals die and we eat them, and to be honest, when she sees fish swimming in a pond or tank she rubs her belly and says “yummy yummy.” She has yet to differentiate between the two Spanish words for fish: one for swimming the other for fridge. She knows that if you don’t water plants “they get very dead,” and she understands that people die and we’re sad and though it makes her sad when she thinks about it, she already gets sad at the airport, and says out loud that she’s sad because so-and-so have to go home or she can’t stay with them, so it’s something she’ll have to get used to along with the other minor melancholia of life. She’s a sensitive child, as I said, but I haven’t held back on the truth of life and death (and though she’s seen lots of real-life storks, nobody’s ever suggested that they have anything to do with sprogs).
But my question is, does she have to know all about Jesus Christ right now, straight away? She has been informed that to be a friend of Jesus she has to go to catechism class (yea, here in Spain the schools don’t prepare kids for their first communion: separation of church and state and all that). But she’s telling me how “Jesus was taken by some bad people and put up on some sticks and killed.” I mean, WTF? I’ve yet to talk to talk to the priest about this, but I reckon three years old has to be a bit young for that. It definitely seems to be for her. I turn off the news nearly every night here so she doesn’t keep asking why the police are beating the shit out of people protesting an eviction, or just going ballistic on some demonstrators because they can get away with it. It’s hard to tell kids to go running to a cop instead of away (like the police say asking parents not to threaten their kids with “telling a policeman” when they’re naughty – better to say you’ll tell Santy, I reckon) when the cops are gleefully baton charging innocent commuters and popping off plastic rounds down the platform of a railway station, hundreds of yards from the building (full of corrupt fuckers, but that’s another day’s discussion) they’re supposedly protecting. I’m not saying I’ll tell her to run away, but drop into a foetal position is probably good parental advice. I don’t think she needs to know about Jesus Christ’s torture and crucifixion to “be his friend.” Am I being too sensitive?
While I know that some sound humanistic behaviours were advocated by JC back in the day, and I hope he’d be on my side of the police barricade in an eviction situation, I wish we could just skip him altogether and go straight to Ghandi. After all, it’s basically the same message (commits huge error and offends Hindus the world over, but blunders on regardless) but Ghandi has the advantage that he actually achieved something in his lifetime and was so old when he was assassinated (and a few bullets is not quite as gruesome as crucifixion) that we can basically gloss over that bit when we’re talking to preschoolers.
And when do the good people of the world – you and me – think the day will come when we won’t have to hold back any of the truth to young kids, because we won’t have situations where the police are beating protesters (or innocent bystanders), or the army are shooting rubber bullets at drowning migrants to keep them off the beach? When will be not have to turn off the news showing old and infirm pensioners being forcibly evicted from their paid-up house because they signed as guarantor for a son or daughter who bought a shitty flat for an exorbitant price and then lost their job, and the government only gives 400 euro dole, from which they’ve to pay a 400 euro mortgage and keep four kids alive and clothed? My only consolation is that some of it is just news that can be actually turned off the television – that at least she’s not going to school in the US and so she doesn’t need to be trained for the possible event of a “bad person” coming in her school to shoot her and her friends – and I say that as a hunter and gun owner: I’d rather earn a privilege than share a right with a load of fuckwads, especially fuckwads with high powered weapons.
If you can’t answer the question with anything other than my own response: “never, and it’s best to just toughen her up to get prepared for the shit that she’ll have to deal with, which will make our petty problems look, well, petty, if not simply quaint and laughable,” well, then, perhaps I don’t need any advice after all.