For the 8-Year-Old in Us All
April 4th sees the start of T.A.N.K.'s "We Are All Readers" Festival, organized in response to recent book-banning efforts nationwide, including here in NK. The festival ends with an afternoon-long celebration on Saturday, April 9th, which happens to be my birthday.
Last week I attended a birthday party for a girl turning 8, at Inside Scoop on the evening it first reopened. This particular 8-year-old, along with her older and younger brothers, grew up in war-torn Afghanistan where they witnessed untold horrors. In this country for less than 6 months, their family is poor and struggling. The birthday event, of course, was all smiles and ice cream.
A few days later my husband, a retired librarian, played on our kitchen speakers an NPR broadcast entitled "For the 8-Year-Old in You." He and I were both wiping away tears by the end of this interview with acclaimed children's book author Kate DiCamillo. Her website opens with the words,
"The theme of hope and belief in impossible circumstances ..."
Both the interview and the summary culminate with "LOVE," the word and the concept. Other notable words and phrases include
"WIDE OPEN WITH YEARNING AND POSSIBILITY"
"UNBEARABLY ALERT TO THE WORLD'S WONDERS AND ITS DANGERS ALL AT ONCE"
"Is it our job to tell children the truth of the harshness of reality, or to preserve their innocence?"
Compare these with the words said into the microphone at the last NK School Committee meeting I went to. A person I've seen and heard often at NKSC meetings—always speaking in opposition to something (many different things, over several months) that the SC is doing or considering doing—directly addressed one of the people on the NKHS auditorium stage by name and said into the microphone for all to hear:
"I hate you."
In the ongoing education debates, locally and nationally, one side advocates telling children the truth, even ugly truths, and trusting them to be able to handle it as long as—and in fact because—love is ultimately where we grownups are coming from, where we are headed, and what we are trying to uphold in raising these truths with our youth. On the other side we hear words like "HATE" and "DISGUSTING" (also freely flung from the SC mic) and see people whose aim is to prevent not only their own children but everyone else's children from getting access to certain information. Their chief motivations seem to be suspicion and fear--fear of change, fear of difference, fear of the honest truth.
Eight is the age I was when I started to notice unsettling truths about the world and the people in it. Eight is the age of our older daughter when we moved out of NYC; she remembers scary things that her younger sister doesn't, such as shabbily dressed, mentally unfocused people cursing to themselves on the street or the subway platform.
When we moved to North Kingstown, she noticed something else that surprised and unsettled her. "Why is everybody here white?" she asked.
The world is full of intolerance, depravity, injustice, deprivation, hypocrisy, cruelty, and all kinds of contradictions, By age 8, our children are starting to realize this on their own. The older they get, the more they see and the more questions they have--whether or not they ask those questions aloud. The more we adults try to talk to them openly and honestly about what they see and feel—and the more we encourage them to seek answers elsewhere, such as in books—the more they will feel loved, seen, heard, understood and accepted, even if there will always be things they find hard to accept and understand.
The WebMD page called "Your Child at 8" says, "Don’t be afraid to talk to your kids about tough topics like peer pressure, violence, drug use, and sexuality. Find age-appropriate ways to answer questions without adding to confusion or fear."
Are we for love and trust, or hate and fear? With what concepts do we want to enfold our children? What kind of world do we want them to know surrounds them?
Photo credit: Susan Tash