There are times when words are chosen with great care when discussing things with a two and a half year old. I seldom give her enough credit for her knowledge of things in general and the ability to really understand what we are saying. Sure, she has convenient hearing like most young children, but she also has an amazing sense of compassion and understanding that makes her seem wise beyond her years. Our close friend LizBet described her as having an old soul at times. I couldn't agree more.
Last Thursday, the girls and I left the house on an adventure. We were traveling a little ways down the road to Goochland Courthouse to order a GF cake for Miss Roo's big birthday bash. The weather was a tad chilly and there were rather seriously looking skies around, so we spent some time looking out at our surrounding as we drove. Moo asked questions about the countryside and I silently longed for where I grew up - summers that seemed to never end, lightning bugs in Mason jars, and mountains.
We drove past a school with a lot of yellow buses, fields with grazing cattle, farm houses, ponds, and the river. We found the main street and the bakery. We kept driving to explore for a few more minutes before turning around to go back to order Roo's cake. As we crossed the river again, we came upon a building now on Moo's side of the van.
"What's dat, Mommy?" she asked pointing at the colonial looking building and grounds.
Great. The prison. How do I answer THIS question.
I remembered reading a blog entry from Checklist Mommy that I had linked to my Facebook page on calling strangers "Tricky People" rather than strangers. There are times when your child might need a stranger if something happens -you're at the Children's Museum and she can't find you. Other Mommies are strangers but they can help you find Mommy. However some people might be out there to hurt you. These people are tricky people.
From this article I also thought about the consequences present from branding certain people as "bad" to my children. Often we throw the word bad around without thinking of the lasting effects such a word has on our children because they ARE listening to us. We are all guilty of making poor decisions from time to time. Some decisions are just larger and carry larger consequences than others. I wanted to be sure to not plant the seed of "bad" people in her head regarding a prison. I'd like to think that our system works occasionally and that some men and women use their incarceration to better themselves and plan for their future.
Somehow ALL of this runs through my head in 5 seconds. So, what do I tell her about the prison?? I quickly read the sign and I remember that it indicated there were mental and substance abuse treatment there (the exact words are now cloudy). It was also a women's center.
"Sometimes people are a little sick in their minds. That makes them do not nice things. They can go there and the people and doctors try to make them better."
Silence. Was that too much, I wonder.
"Oooh. Those poor people."
I glance at her and she genuinely has a look of compassion on her face. My eyes well up.
"Aww Baby Girl you're so sweet. "
"They will be otay, Mommy?"
"I hope so, baby."
We pull into the bakery parking lot and I get both my girls out of the van. We order our cake and I buy a cupcake for us to share as a treat. I load them back into the van and divvy the treat between them. Roo stuffs her face. Moo licks her icing. She giggles at me and then her sister. I look at them and wonder how I have managed to be blessed with two gorgeous and wonderful girls.
I know I can't protect them from the harshness of the world forever. There will be times when I will have to use terms that may be uncomfortable for us all but are needed to convey the gravity of the situation. I also want to teach my children compassion, love, and forgiveness. Setting them up to stereotype those around them hurts them more than anyone else. I was very thankful I had read something from another Mom that helped me with my girls in a moment where there was no manual for what to do or say. Far too often we try to do everything on our own, assuming that we are the Mom and therefore we should have all the answers. We have some answers, but we are only one person. We need each other. We need to talk, to listen, and to learn. Not everything I say here works for everyone but it will work for some Mom who is suddenly faced with a decision for herself or her child.
That's why I write. I know I need villagers to help raise my children. Someday I hope to be that small voice in someone's mind. I hope that for a second they think and find the resolve to instill a sense of compassion in their children rather than an instant dismissal of someone they don't know. And I hope they are proud of their child. And them self.
I can see Moo's face in my mind as I glanced in the rear view mirror that cloudy, grey day. I saw a truth in that moment.
Go get 'em, girl!