How Thomas Jefferson and King Kong Led to the End of My Child’s Innocence
By Ray Lucas
THIS SUMMER, my 5-year-old son peed on the president’s barn.
We were on vacation and had stopped for the day at Monticello, the home of President Thomas Jefferson. While touring the historic Virginian plantation, we stepped into the presidential stable where my wife and I read about what an avid horse rider Jefferson had been during his lifetime.
I was leaving the barn toward the fenced-in pasture, where TJ’s horses once grazed, when I heard fellow tourists giggling and clicking their camera. Curious, I turned toward the scene that held their attention and discovered my son, shorts and underwear completely around his ankles, peeing on the side of the white-washed barn so dear to Mr. Jefferson. Bare cheeks in the wind, he showed no modesty nor shame.
Containing my smile, it occurred to me in that moment that I was far overdue for a conversation with him about when a boy can and cannot pee in the yard. Walking the grounds toward the Jeffersonian mansion featured on the back of the nickel, we began our talk about being discreet while our fellow tourists were probably posting photos of his transgressions with “Ha-ha” emoji’s on Facebook.
The experience led me to the question, “What other conversations in my life have I been putting off?”
I made a mental list of a few that were seriously overdue.
• “The birds and the bees” part one with the 10-year old son and “the birds and the bees” part two with 17-year-old son.
• “I’m not as crazy about the movie White Christmas as I led you to believe while dating” with wife (I think she already suspected).
• “I’m not so sure Simba really escaped to the woods with all of the other bunnies” explaining the untimely demise of her childhood rabbit, with now 19-year-old daughter. (Sorry, honey!)
IT’S HARD TO TELL YOUR CHILD THAT THERE ARE BAD PEOPLE IN THE WORLD AND SOMETIMES THEY OVERPOWER THE GOOD IN THOSE AROUND THEM.
A few weeks ago, another conversation came to mind. My wife and I allowed our 5-year-old to watch a movie he had seen the previews for and begged us to watch – King Kong. At the end of the story, our young filmgoer had grown attached to King Kong and was jumping up and down on the couch cheering each time the great ape swatted an attacking biplane out of the sky atop the Empire State Building. Even while his hero took bullets and grew weak, our boy felt certain that Kong would prevail.
Finally, as King Kong slipped from the building and fell to his death our son became sad and confused. He looked at me as if he had been betrayed. His voice quivered: “That’s not supposed to happen.” He couldn’t help himself as he began to weep. He was embarrassed and crying and mad. “Why did the bad boys kill him?” he sobbed. He cried for a solid five minutes as we consoled him. We were both unprepared at how upset the ending had made him.
Obviously, this was another conversation that was overdue – the good guy doesn’t always win. It’s hard to tell your child that there are bad people in the world and sometimes they overpower the good in those around them. One needs only to look at the headlines of the past few months to know this truth.
So why are these conversations hard to have? Sometimes it’s the fear of hurting feelings or bringing up a subject that we find uneasy about ourselves. But these experiences have led me to understand more often than not the hardest conversations to have with our children are the ones that mark the end of a certain innocence that we aren’t ready to see pass.
Most recently I have wrestled with another conversation with our 5-year-old that is long past due: “It’s time for you to sleep all night in your own bed.” We never let his older siblings sleep with us, but as the baby, we would occasionally allow him to slip into our bed in the middle of the night. As a toddler, it was sometimes cramped, but he would snuggle up, put his arms around your neck and smile in his sleep. How could we resist?
Today, he takes up more bed space than I do, kicks the covers off each night and his cold feet usually end up in my wife’s back. We agree that he needs to stay in his own bed, but because we have grown used to the arrangement or because we are typically too tired to get up and lead him to bed, we have not had that final conversation that is way past due. Or perhaps we both fear that this, too, will mark a passing of innocence that we are not ready to see end.
It’s true – our kindergarten son still sleeps with an innocent smile in our bed. Judge me if you like, but at least he no longer pees on presidential barns.