|A trio of the BigHeaded Dead, Art Institute of Chicago|
So, bigger things. like guns. Today is Tuesday and my 3 year old has just paused from cramming ravioli into her mouth to ask, "What are guns?" Unh. We have already been having BI-Zarre chats about death of late, as her father took her to a memorial the weekend before last. But here we are, in Terry Gross land, not even coverage of a mass shooting or even a murder, but a director and actor interview. To be honest, I really haven't become adept at switching the radio, CDs, or TV to shield her ears, but it would seem the time to start has already passed. I still catch myself exclaiming at fellow drivers, though the backseat driver instantly provides a tonally accurate replay: "WHY DID YOU SAY: 'You've gotta be kidding me?'" Her remarkable, relentless attention is catching up with me. So. the director of Taxi Driver has just told Terry that at a certain point of his life, he just slept better with a gun under his pillow. And I internally cringed, because I can think of few things which would make me feel more threatened than having a gun nearby. Cue preschooler head swinging my way, pesto-greasy fist paused by her mouth: "What are guns?" To be exact, she actually pronounces it like gum, as in the oddity we chew, which she also just noticed for the first time this week.
This isn't a setup for a lucid crossing over of the preschool-middle aged divide. More of a chagrined fumbling of information, tossed up into the air, while I watch for reactions, and add more topics to google in relation to childhood development. I am wearing a carefully neutral face. Well, I note, they are things that some people own. They are made to hurt or kill animals or people. How can any of this make sense? Most of the time, police officers or soldiers have guns. But they try to use them to protect people in dangerous situation. Clearly this makes NO sense, on top of being vastly untrue in uncountable instances. But sometimes other people will have guns. She is trying hard and I'm not giving her a lot here to go on. "...And doctors! They have gums, to help people--"
"--No. Doctors NEVER use guns in their work, because shooting a gun wouldn't heal anyone and that's their whole job, to help people by healing them. Guns are very, very dangerous and police and soldiers have special training to know how to use them. When you shoot a gun at someone you really hurt them--"
"Nope, this is a HUGE owie. Some people can be fixed in the hospital from being shot, but some people DIE-"
"-and THEN they are put in a museum." This she delivers with triumphant satisfaction. For the past six months or so, she has been adamant that dead people show up in museums without fail, which I kinda get, what with all the galleries of Western portraiture and disturbingly lifelike sculptures. I won't lie: this is one of my favorites of her kid-logic conclusions.
"Well noo, remember Daddy mentioned the cemetery? People are usually buried there. But not everyone dies from being shot. But it's a big enough owie that it changes you, being shot."
"I could shoot a gum--"
"NO you could NOT shoot a gun, it's VERY. DANGEROUS. That's not -"
"I could put a gum in my mouth like this" and puts fingers in her mouth to demonstrate, as if it were a carrot stick or her Crayon toothbrush or the (annoying) wrong end of her spoon. And the last two bits to me solidified why to never ever have a gun in a house with children: had she even heard suicides mentioned or that specific threat? "NO, that would NEVER be something for you to do, that would give you a HUGE OWIE. This is not something for children to use."
I think that was about it for the exchange, outside of various lame attempts to follow up questions. How does it make people hurt? What's a bullet? How does it help you to sleep better? All horrifying and mystifying, collectively speaking. Would we be talking about sex by weeks' end? Which would be a relief, by comparison. I periodically remind myself that most people don't remember things earlier than five years, but it's not like I'll suddenly be up for impromptu disquisitions on man's inhumanity to man when she turns five. I know that no parent has all the answers, and that simply acknowledging that is okay, too. But how to arm them (ha) with enough age appropriate knowledge, without scarring them? Clearly, she will need to know the world has tragedy, horrible misfortune, hatred and evil in it, but please, just not yet.
Related articles on talking with young children about gun violence offer some tips -- one sentence stories for the very young, stressing that parents do everything to keep them safe -- brief searches on talking to kids about guns at all yielded talking points for combating children's curiosity, in a household with guns.
So far, no subsequent gun talk, but this: "GROSS means yucky but ALSO is someone on the radio. GROSS is a name."
*splendidly, luxuriantly over-the-top in terms of physical setup and resulting atmospheric narratives