I cannot help wondering if Donna's mom wanted to protect her children from the part of The Sound of Music that had to do with war; perhaps she thought they would be traumatized and have nightmares if they knew the whole story. If that is so, I find her actions rather foreign because I was brought up quite differently. From a young age I knew that life involved joy, rainbows and picnics in the park , but I also knew that the world was full of tremendous sadness and horror. My family had been given a book of photograps called The Family of Man. I was fascinated by the pictures of child soldiers in war-torn areas, migrant workers, flowers growing in the midst of destruction and chaos- images planted on my brain for eternity. At my elementary school we watched films of the Developing Nations: bloated tummies, children surrounded by flies, endless bowls of rice and powdered milk distributed by kind looking bearded men and caring women. Sadness and pain, yes, but always hope, too.
I have a vague, dreamlike memory of my mother lining my brothers and sisters and I up in folding red chairs all in a row when I was very little and telling us where babies come from. There were no euphemisms, no cute terms for body parts, just the plain, awful truth. According to family lore I refused to beleive her then, when I was little and for years after. In fact, until I was ten I decided that babies appeared suddenly and magically after the wedding and the bride's beautiful white dress were done with: no blood, no mess. When I was a teenager, my older sisters, sister-in-law and mother sometimes drank tea and talked at length and with great enthusiasm about disgusting things like giving birth, umbilical cords, amniotic fluid, etc. I distinctly remember announcing at one point, "If you say the word placenta one more time, I'm leaving!" They laughed, of course, but sympathetically. Interestingly enough, when I gave birth to my first child, I was more prepared than I realized, and the process felt natural. To my surprise I was not overwhelmingly upset by the realities of birth - the pain, the blood, and the 'mess' - and I was able to see the incredible beauty of what I had just achieved, a healthy baby. It was one of the most empowering experiences of my life.
That being said, I am learning as a parent that timing is everything when it involves sensitive souls and painful realities. A few years ago, I was forced to fudge the truth to my youngest daughter, Katie. For three nights the Tooth Fairy had forgotten to come. Three mornings in a row her dad and I had to face the embarrassment of having forgotten to replace the tiny tooth with a coin. Finally, on the morning of the third failure I said to her out of desperation, "Let me tell you something, Katie. There is no Tooth Fairy. Mommy and Daddy are the Tooth Fairy and we have been forgetting to take your tooth for the past three nights." At first I thought she was going to be okay. She was smiling like I had just told her a big exciting secret (which I had) but soon her eyes filled with tears and I knew I had done wrong. I took her onto my lap and began to mutter things which opened up the possibility of there still being a Tooth Fairy. She immediately began to cheer up, and off we went to Kindergarten. Later that morning I remorsefully purchased a Cinderella toothbrush and put aside a one dollar coin. That night I wrote the following note:
Hi Katie, I hear you mom tried to tell you I'm not real. Don't believe her for a second! I haven't come for the past three nights because I have had the flu. So, here is an extra-special present for your tooth: a new toothbrush! your mom was probably trying to protect me when she told you I'm not real. I'll bet she was afraid I'd never come. Anyway, enjoy your toothbrush and see you next time! Love, the Tooth Fairy.
The next morning, Katie was overjoyed to see the tooth fairy had come and had even left her a note. I half expected her to look at me sideways with half closed eyes and ask, "Did you write this, Mom?" But she didn't. I realized she was still in love with the idea of the possibility of fairies and it was my job, for now, to play along, to enable her imagination - just as my own mom had signed our Christmas presents 'love from S. Clause,' until we were nearly grown up, and smilingly refused to admit they were from her (whose initial is also 'S.")
My four children are all involved in Remembrance Day ceremonies at school today. My youngest, Katie, made a poster for Remembrance Day for a contest at school and each day she comes home with new information about the commemorative day when all the schools and businesses are closed. "Some kids aren't very respectful," she tells us, "and our teacher gets pretty mad." I have been thinking about this. Every year we have to renew the purpose of Remembrance Day for a new crop of children. When I was a child, World War II was still fairly fresh in the minds of my parents and grandparents. Now as living veterans of that war are few, our children must be taught the importance of remembering our past so we are not doomed to repeat it. In a world filled with endless digital distractions and video games like Call of Duty, the truth about war and the painful reality of it in our present world needs to, once again, be taught with grave sincerity to our children. They may still believe in Santa Clause and the Tooth Fairy, and in my view, so they should, but as they grow and mature they can also handle the truth, told with fresh perspective and sensitivity, about very real things. We owe it to their intelligence. And to their future.