Like most parents, I have no idea what I’m doing most days. For most of the last five years, I’ve been feeling my way in the dark. And although I wanted to be one of those hyper-liberal parents who lets her kid just be a kid and doesn’t try to interfere in any way, everyone knows that even non-choices and non-interference are choices. Because we all have these beliefs — morals, if you will — that we intentionally or unwittingly pass on to our kids, either through our actions or through our words. I’m a vegetarian, for example, and although I’d never take a cue from this asshole and tell my daughter about animal cruelty, and I really do let her choose what she wants to eat (within reason) including meat, by not cooking it at home, I’m making her an evening-and-weekend herbivore.
Actions may speak louder than words, but now that Diva’s got an extensive, multi-lingual vocabulary, this playing it by ear parenting technique has gotten a lot easier. She can express herself (recently telling me how delicious the chicken at a birthday party was) so I’m getting to know her wishes better. And when she’s confused about the world? Just ask Mom. Makes my life a lot easier to finally know what in the world is going on in that overactive brain of hers. When you’re dealing with a kid, words are the central key to understanding those actions.
At the same time, it’s gotten a lot tougher to be a completely unprepared parent. Like a couple months ago when she, seemingly unprompted, wanted to know if blood comes out of a vagina when a woman is having a baby. I’ve always believed honesty to be the best policy so I said yes, but I didn’t go further because I could not for the life of me figure out why she was asking this and I didn’t want to scare her off having kids when she still hasn’t hit puberty (which is, of course, when we’ll be YouTubing deliveries to scare her away from the boys). Turns out, there was a very graphic drawing in her “Was ist los im Krankenhaus” Wimmelbuch and she was just fact-checking the illustration. How very pedantic. Her curiosity as to why this happens was not piqued. Thankfully, because I wouldn’t have known how to proceed. By using medical terminology that would just confuse her more? I had a set of books as a kid called “Tell Me Why” that explained all this stuff in a very straightforward manner that was easy to understand, but which seriously led my mom to be like, “Go get your books” every time I had a question. And since I feel like my role here as a parent is to guide my daughter through life, I’d prefer to be using these “teachable moments,” having these conversations with her myself, even about topics I don’t know a damn thing about. So I’ve been trying to prepare myself better, trying to figure out what age-appropriate topics she’s going to be asking about. But still, mostly feeling my way in the dark here.
I totally disagree with guiding my daughter through life by putting ideas and questions into her mind, so I’m taking the “you ask, I’ll answer” tack and not the other way around. She hasn’t asked yet about anything even remotely religious so I am not spending my days explaining the concept of heaven to her whenever we look up at the sky. Instead, we talk facts, like “that’s a cloud,” and “those are stars.” By waiting for her to call the shots on certain topics, however, I recently realized I’ve put her at a distinct disadvantage. You see, a lot of what runs the world are social constructs and if you aren’t directly faced with these constructs, they’re somewhat baffling. They are beyond what a five-year-old can imagine on her own.
Take, for instance, the idea of angels and devils. Thanks to the masses out celebrating Carneval, my daughter now knows what these are supposed to look like — all golden halos or pointy red ears and tail. But the concept? Completely foreign. Some people and/or spiritual creatures are good and some are evil? But why would some choose to not be good? And why do they insist on wearing red stilettos while doing so?
Thanks to books she’s had read to her at school, her imagination is filled with flying unicorns and glitter-sprinkling fairies but in her world everything is happy and shiny and damnit, I aim to keep it that way as long as I possibly can. She doesn’t ask why these unicorns can fly and I am not about to go and put ideas in her head. Just like I’m not going to explain the concept of the devil on anything more than a superficial level.
But here’s where it just got tricky. Thanks again to Karneval, Diva was exposed today to the idea of cowboys and Indians. Not, of course, the true-to-life sort of Native Americans that live on reservations near my parents who do such exotic things like teach at universities and wear blue jeans or Ford F150-driving cattle herders whose shit-kickers are caked in dirt. Nope. She was introduced to fucking Winnetou and Old Shatterhand and needed to know, immediately, why people would put feathers in their hair and PAINT THEIR FACES RED and wear ponchos. Now maybe it’s my Americanism or the fact that our family descends from displaced Cherokees or maybe in part it was the whole Blackface debate that’s been raging in Germany lately, but this just put me over the top. How am I supposed to raise a culturally-aware and sensitive human being when we are surrounded by this nonsense? How do I help her understand that fun is fun, but doing so at others’ expense is not okay?
I decided to take the factual route and explain to her that while she and I were real Indians, even though neither of us had black hair, the people dressed as Indians were insensitive assholes trading in stereotypes and by trying to take the individuality away from a specific ethnic group through othering, they were showing their racist nature. And then I complimented her on her not-gender-neutral choice of Princess costume complete with magic wand and we got off the train feeling like a bunch of Klugscheissers.
But seriously people. How the fuck are we supposed to be raising humanists in a world where these arbitrary divisions based on ethnic heritage are not a thing of the past? How am I supposed to be answering questions about social constructs I don’t even agree with? Help!