Today’s guest post comes from Steve Grooms
It should not have surprised me. When my daughter Molly began to talk, she started telling her mother and me the same things we were always telling her. Kathe and I talked to Molly almost nonstop, and much of the time we were explaining the world to her.
I should have expected that Molly would begin explaining the world to us.
“All these lights along the road?” Molly would say, her voice rising as if to form a question. “They put them there so the cars don’t bump each other in the dark.”
One day Molly spotted a poster of Garrison Keillor—Garrison with his distinctive face and beard. “When you see a face that looks like that,” Molly said to me in a helpful tone, “then you know that it is Garrison.”
We took Molly to a Lebanese restaurant one night. She was silent, her eyes wide as she took in the novelty of a restaurant that didn’t serve American food. She finally said, “It is a good thing they have this restaurant. All the people fighting the war . . . when they get tired they can come here and have their own kind of food.” Molly was responding to the fact that every night’s TV newscast featured film of civil war in Lebanon.
While explaining the universe to us, Molly almost always added her stamp of approval. She described the world as a place that was laid out in a pleasant and logical way. “They always put the cookies in the same place in the grocery store so kids and parents can find them.”
I used to reflect on the word she used so often: “they.” “They” made sure that water came out of our taps—hot and cold—when we twisted the handles. “They” put Christmas lights up at our shopping center. “They” made our world, and Molly appreciated their work. Beaming with contentment, my daughter savored the comfortable life that “they” had created for just for us.
This delighted me for years. Then I began to worry.
Yes, “they” had created a world that served our needs and delighted our senses. But “they” were not to be trusted. Sometimes “they” did things for selfish or even evil motives. Sometimes they lied. Molly needed to temper her pure trust in them. My sweet daughter needed an injection of cynicism.
Perhaps only another Midwestern parent would understand what this cost me. I adored my daughter’s unalloyed trust in her environment. Something in me balked at introducing her to the venality of human nature. And yet it had to be done. Without an appreciation of how deceptive others could be, my daughter would be vulnerable to manipulation. I had to teach a trusting child to be cynical, at least a little bit.
But how? I chose to introduce my daughter to cynicism by picking on a fat target: children’s commercial television.
One day when we were watching a cartoon show sponsored by a line of toys, I told Molly that people who wanted to sell stuff created commercials that made the toys look better than they are. “That truck probably broke right after they filmed that commercial,” I said. I showed her how tricks in film technique made the toys seem more dramatic than they were.
Molly was aghast. But she soon got in the spirit of things. When we saw other commercials, she would seek my approval by suggesting ways the sponsors might be lying to us. She began finding fault with what “they” were doing.
One morning when she was about six I went into Molly’s bedroom wake her up to face another day at school. My daughter lay on her back, eyes closed, arms splayed out like Jesus on the cross. When I rubbed her tiny chest, she spoke in a sleepy mumble. From the corner of her room the clock radio was blaring morning news.
“Daddy? What is the very best thing for you when you get up in the morning?”
Like any sensible parent, I was terrified by that question. She had been thinking about some issue and had a very particular concern. I wanted to be careful with the answer to this question, for this was not a harmless random question.
“Why, Molly,” I finally said, “the very best thing about getting up in the morning is that I get to see you and Kathe again.”
“Oh, they lie! THEY LIE!” said Molly, eyes still closed. “That just shows how they lie. On the radio they just said, ‘The best part of getting up is Folger’s in your cup!’”
What is the best part of getting up?