NickJr.com, February 2000
In the Trenches With Bruce Kluger
Bridgette & Bill
By Bruce Kluger
Teach your children well
Their father's hell did slowly go by.
And feed them on your dreams
The one they pick's the one you'll know by.
—Graham Nash, 1970
Last night, I was working at the computer
while listening to the background clatter of
talking heads on TV, a gaggle of analysts
swapping predictions about Election 2000,
and wondering if a new President can lead
the nation’s children down the path of
righteousness. Suddenly one of the pundits,
a member of the religious right, began bemoaning the state of the nation’s morality.
Specifically, he was picking on everyone’s favorite kick-child: television.
“And I’ll tell you what,” the zealot announced, his face red and his finger wagging.
“Back when the White House was engulfed in that sex scandal, I was so appalled by
what I heard on the TV every night, that I had to send my children out of the living
room. That’s when I decided never to let them watch the evening news again.”
I suppose this bit of pious posturing on was intended to give me pause, make me
think about the nation’s decaying morality and how I, as a father, was required to
protect my children from the devil’s grasp by following the good man’s example and
unplugging our TV for good.
But that’s not what I thought. Instead, the only thing that came into my head as
Reverend Do-Right rambled on was, “Gee, what unimaginative parenting.”
It’s strange, but these days it seems the more sophisticated mass communication
gets, the more we hear about how our children need to be shielded from the world
that’s swirling around them. One minister tells us Brokaw is banished from his home
for good; another expert confesses she’s switched her kids to home study to assure
that they’re not exposed to worrisome role models like Tom Sawyer and Anne
Frank; still another tells us a Teletubbie is deviant.
What a waste of time. As well meaning as all of these efforts are, isn’t it easier to
walk our children through the minefield of the modern world, rather than lock them
away from it? So what if things occasionally get messy? Life is messy. Deal with it.
Don’t get me wrong. As far as I’m concerned the good Reverend can replace his
Sony Trinitron with a Waring blender and spend the news hour reading Louisa May
Alcott to his brood—that’s his business. But the real point is, regardless of their
cable or Internet access, children will always find out what’s going on in the world—
somehow—and I’m convinced it’s better to provide them with specific answers to
their specific questions, however simplified or bleached or abridged, than keep
them wondering. After all, a child left scratching his head is an opportunity missed.
As it turns out, back in ’98 I had a relatively easy time explaining the White House
fiasco to my then three-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Bridgette. The story had
broken not long after she had begun watching the home video of Pinocchio;
consequently, when Bridgey noticed a photograph of an obviously perturbed
President on the front page of our morning paper, we were able to discuss the
whole matter in less than twenty seconds:
Me: Look, the President’s sad.
Me: He’s in trouble.
Me: He told a lie.
Bridgette: Like Pinocchio?
Bridgette: Is he going to get punished?
Me: As a matter of fact, yes, he is.
Bridgette: Oh. [Pause] Can I have a Chiclet?
That was it. No muss, no fuss, no cigar, no blue Gap dress. Lucky for me, this
morality lesson—in the form of a puppet-boy and a do-gooder cricket—was all she
needed to understand the Chief Executive’s woes. In fact, she was so satisfied with
our exchange about Clinton’s predicament that she didn’t even ask why his nose
didn’t grow. That, she understands, is make-pretend.
But as we all know, the real lesson here doesn’t begin and end at 1600
Pennsylvania Avenue. Children are confronted everyday with complex, grown-up
issues that go beyond perjury, marital infidelity and partisan politics. And as
parents, we can choose either to shelve the discussions for later, or use our
imaginations to give the curious, wide-eyed child a nibble of truth to chew on.
I choose the latter. Over the course of her little life, Bridgette has asked me
questions about homelessness, prison, even war—and I have looked upon these
queries less as danger zones and more as opportunities to understand the way my
kid’s mind works: The concept of homelessness, for example, finally sank in for
Bridgette when I explained that the homeless man on the corner didn’t have his own
bed to sleep in—this soon after Bridgette graduated to her own “big girl’s bed”;
prison was easy: “it’s the big time-out;” and war is just like those fights Jason and
Donny have in school all the time, only much, much bigger.
Look, I’m not claiming I have all the answers. In fact, as the days pass and Bridgette
keeps getting smarter I can practically hear her conjuring up the stumpers that will
eventually render me mute. But for now I enjoy being there for her with the answers.
In fact, I’ll miss it when she begins figuring things out for herself.
But if she expects me to explain Linda Tripp to her she’s got another thing coming.