Conversations

I was talking to our three-year-old granddaughter and she said, “I used to go to school, but that Covid came and now I have to do my workbook!” She threw up both hands and looked at me. “What can you do?”

Now, to be clear, she had attended preschool for only about four days or so when the preschool shut down. She was just getting started on a very limited basis. And she likes doing the exercises in her workbook. With us visiting we often are working one-on-one with the children during their lesson times. She hasn’t seemed to be upset about the home school adventure.

On the other hand, I never thought that I would be discussing a worldwide pandemic with a three-year-old.

The children are very aware of the changes in their lives brought forth by the pandemic. Here in Washington, masks are required for all persons over the age of 12 in all public places. This community is in phase II, which means restaurants can serve in house if they have widely spaced tables, seat five or less per table, and require all patrons to wear masks unless seated at the table. But the children don’t go out to restaurants. The oldest two, aged 6 and 9, are allowed to go grocery shopping once a week. The youngest one is occasionally with her mother or father on a short outing. The whole family goes to parks and other place for walks and exercise. But most of the time they stay home.

What the children miss is contact with other children. They don’t have play dates. It is very difficult to arrange opportunities for other children to come to the house or for them to go to their friends’ houses. They don’t have contact with friends at school. All three are very creative and independent children and they are articulate and fun to engage in conversation. But their world is, for the most part, their siblings, their parents, and their grandparents. They do have the advantage over some of their peers of having a huge garden and chickens and a guinea pig that need care.

We don’t talk about politics very much, but the children are aware of our political views. Their father works for the city, so they overhear conversations about city budgets and the mayor and they know that their father has to go into his bedroom to participate in city council meetings and that they need to be quiet when he is meeting.

The dilemma that we faced with our children when they were growing up continues to be a conundrum for me as a grandfather. My instinct is to try to protect those I love from the pain and terror of the world. I don’t want them to grow up surrounded by pain and war and evil and all of the frightening things that are a part of this world. On the other hand, I do not want them to grow up isolated in a bubble, unaware of the evils of racism and greed and the politics of selfishness and wealth and power. How do we raise children to be citizens of the world without causing them undue fear?

Actually, it isn’t too much of a challenge with the three-year-old. We pretty much listen to what she says and respond to the topics she brings up. We can agree with her that there aren’t too many things we can do about COVID-19, but that it is important to wash our hands carefully and to cover our mouths when we sneeze and to wear face masks when going out in public. We can acknowledge that it places some restrictions on her and that she misses going to school.

The nine-year-old is a bit different. He has begun to study history and world events. He completed a unit on medieval history. He has drawn pictures of knights in battle and of castle walls. He did a report on cross bows and saved up and purchased his own. The rubber-tipped arrows fly pretty straight and he can hit a target from about 25 feet away. It has been an opportunity to teach some basic hunter safety about never pointing the weapon at another person and carrying it safely when he walks. But it is also important for him to understand how various weapons transformed warfare and that crossbows were used with deadly accuracy to kill people and to defend the consolidation of wealth and power. The weapons also allowed the use of warfare offensively to seize additional wealth and power.

In time he will need to learn about Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima and Korea and Vietnam and 9-11 and Iraq and Afghanistan. In time the children will need to know not only about coronaviruses but also about cancer and heart disease and injuries caused by accidents.

Already, living in a town where Spanish is the primary language of some households and where more than half of the children in the school receive free or subsidized lunches means that they need to know about race and class and the effects of unemployment and poverty. Living on a flood plain near an ocean, they need to understand global warming and rising sea levels.

We raise our children to be citizens of the world and that means that they need to be aware of the world, its history, its tragedies, and its problems. We count on future generations to solve some of the problems whose solutions have evaded our generation. We know that life will present our children with grief and loss and tragedy. We cannot shield them from the realities of life as much as we wish we could.

The conversations we have with our grandchildren are important as they learn and grow. Like all conversations they start with careful listening. You can’t answer a child’s question unless you understand the question. I am constantly reminded of the mother who took a deep breath and gave an elementary explanation of human sexuality to a child who asked, “Where did I come from?” only to hear from the child, “No, I meant, ‘What room was I in before I came into this room?’”

Our grandchildren have much to teach us about listening. Only when we learn that lesson can we impart a bit of our wisdom.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!