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There’s a bulletin board in the hallway of my school, and it has a display of drawings my students did before I came here. They drew their dreams, and clearly they all had different ideas of what a dream is…not surprising, adults do too. Some of them drew themselves sleeping in their beds, and that was them dreaming. Some drew the images that roll across the inside of their eyelids when they are asleep, and that was them dreaming. Some drew a night sky, and that was them dreaming. One boy drew a burning house with men with guns, and a cross on fire.

That was his dream, too.

I’ve been watching my husband try out a few new games lately because he got a trial gamefly subscription. He likes a lot of different stuff and there have been kid games and some that are maybe not. That’s the point. There’s this one where a muscle-bound vampire sucks blood from chained and ragged victims to gain energy. I’ve got to admit it made me uneasy to watch. The sound effects were pretty visceral.

One of my favorite books when I was twelve was Dracula by Bram Stoker. I also loved Gone With The Wind and The Count of Monte Cristo.

There are ragged, chained victims, rape scenes, murder, the undead, injustice, revenge,seduction and all manner of violence at the soul of those books. I would recommend them to any child.

I don’t know if I’d let my future little boy play Grand Theft Auto.

Why?

When you read you sit in the passenger’s seat. When the character does something you experience it, you might not even see it coming, you might be the girl with the vampire’s teeth at your neck suddenly, when you weren’t ready for it. You might be carried up the stairs and raped by your own husband because you crossed him one too many times. You might plot to kill the man who had you thrown in prison and stole your fiance. You’d do it, too.

Is that better than screwing a prostitute in the backseat of a car in GTA because you chose to hit that button?

Does the fact that it’s written down make it intrinsically more meaningful and not-evil?

When I was fifteen I read through all of Shakespeare. Titus Andronicus thrilled me to the core. I told my mom about it. That guy killed a little boy and fed him to his own mother baked in a pie. She said she wasn’t sure I should be reading that. I said it’s Shakespeare! She said does that make it right, because it’s Shakespeare?

Yes. Yes, it does. If I saw that in a video game would I be horrified? You bet.

I’m going to have to leave this here without coming to a conclusion because I don’t have one. I’m not sure if I could ever know my own child well enough to sense when he was ready for something like that. What if he dreamt of guns and fire in the attic? My heart would break. Is it just your love that matters, a safe place in the world for a child, a distinction between fantasy and reality, right and wrong?

On a similar but sort-of-different topic, I’ve been doodling a little amorphous bear creature and my husband suggested I write a children’s book around him. I really like that idea. However, I am faced with a completely foggy idea of what a good story would be. I’m trying to remember what books I liked as a kid.

  • I liked repeating phrases
  • I liked animals
  • I liked monsters
  • Especially monsters so big you could only see their bottom half on the page
  • I liked intricate drawings with detail it took you hours to see all of
  • I liked it when the main character was in terrible danger
  • but escaped miraculously

There will be a monster. A big one. My creature will be in terrible danger but will escape miraculously. He will bake a cake.

Now I just have to fill in the spaces.

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I went to a training session today. Everyone knows how fun those are, and it lived up to my every expectation. However, for a corporate training session it wasn’t bad: there were only two moments of jaw-dropping obliviousness to what kids are really about.

1. “We believe that childhood is a precious time, and that children have a right to experience the relaxation and subtle rhythms of happiness of summertime. With careful planning, supervision and adherence to the summer program curriculum, this can be accomplished.”

I’m sorry? Are you sure that’s not how it can NOT be accomplished? Because what I remember about summer is that the subtle rhythms (very poetic for a corporate training manual, don’t you think?) of summer come primarily from not having to do anything, doing really random and pointless stuff because you want to, when you want to, and definitely not adhering to any curriculum. And supervision? The very word is the antithesis of summer vacation. If you don’t step on broken glass, eat nothing but Cheetos all day until dinner, and have permanently grass-stained joints, it’s not a real summer.

2. “What is the purpose of the summer reading program?” Answer: “To prepare children for school in the fall.”

The reading program in itself is pretty good, relying very little on sterile compilations of “literature” written for “reading comprehension” by drones who are probably doing penance with a whip every night (and if they’re not, ought to). The kids actually pick their own books and read at home, getting stickers and so on for accumulated time spent reading. It could be worse.

It’s just a very sad example of how reading for pleasure wasn’t mentioned at all, and is rarely mentioned with any belief behind it.

Anyway, thinking about summer and also about how my husband loved being a kid, I realized there was a lot of stuff I really loved too. So much of it was emotionally overpowering, though, especially my favorite game, Pioneers. In this game we all dressed in our most raggy clothes and collected plants and berries, probably poisonous, and stockpiled them for the winter. We probably rounded up wild horses and fought Indians, too. My memories are fuzzy now. I remember wearing my blue dress with ruffles, the soles of my feet black with weeks of no shoes, and running. Running so fast that my hair blew straight back.

I got so into it that I sometimes forgot I wasn’t really living in the Wild West, and fantasy started to take over…the game in my head got so good that when the neighbor kids broke character for whatever reason, murderous rage hung around me like a black fog.

Thinking about how my husband’s childhood was good because he had nothing to worry about, I don’t know if I specifically had any problems. I mean, there wasn’t a problem I was trying to solve. My house was full of tension, all the time. I’m not sure why. My parents fought, I know that, but I’m not sure what about. They had hot, angry, strained voices in the kitchen. I love the sound of the coffeemaker burbling because if they were making coffee, they weren’t that mad. I think. I tried to ignore it but it was hard to do. It strikes me that my husband was technically raised by a single parent, although his grandpa was there–his paraplegic grandpa. There were plenty of fights in his hearing, I’m sure. And his childhood was happy, spent pushing his toys around the carpet.

I wonder if it was my parent’s fault? Or am I less able than he is to just shrug off, focus on what’s good, not worry? Was his mom just a happier person than mine? Why wasn’t I happy?

One time a boy took a stick and killed a toad with it. A toad I’d been playing with, feeding bugs. Named. He drove the stick through it into the ground. If I could have killed him, I would have, but he was too strong and he got away from me. I used the only weapon I had and chased him, pretending to try to kiss him, thinking that it grossed boys out so much I might as well use it as revenge. How twisted. My heart was breaking and I was running after the murderer with my lips puckered.

I would get up in the early early morning and swing on my swing while the sun came up and the dew sparkled everywhere, and sing to myself. That’s what I thought Heaven looked like. I think I’d still be happy with it if it turns out to be that way.

I hated being a kid. It was one long string of frustrations, burning jealousy, emotions that seemed too big for my body, and fear.

I think I was a pretty awful kid. I was afraid of everyone so I took the defensive position and got them before they could get me. I had no self-control. I wanted to control everyone else, though.

Now I’m teaching kindergarten and I very often sit and stare at a kid, not knowing what to say. You’re so much like me. I know you want to control everything because the game in your head is so perfect. I know you can’t understand why no one else will do things your way. I know it seems like a brick wall goes up in front of everything you want, every five minutes.

How can I help you understand that patience will be so hard for you to learn, but it’s the only way you’ll ever have peace? I couldn’t learn to wait, to let go, to compromise until halfway through college, when I was learning to teach you.

I didn’t set out to learn patience: that kind of vision quest doesn’t work for me. It’s another frustration that wizened crones do not appear along the roadside, granting magical gifts in exchange for stale Wonder bread and Kraft singles. Secretly I always suspected I’d be too possessive of such delights to share my lunch, anyway. I am the eldest child in all the true, nasty old ways. I learn things the hardest way I can find, by making dumb mistakes over and over, ignoring cliches and other truths. The Golden Rule. I got hurt a lot and when I was at the bottom, I couldn’t take the pain anymore. So I changed. I let go. I learned to wait. To enjoy what I have, right now. I don’t have it down solid by any means, but at least I can see the path now. The brick wall has some holes in it.

Because of that, I know how lucky I am to be loved. It’s almost worse to able to be good sometimes instead of never; it makes the times I fail even more shameful. My trying-to-be-good is the same as yours, kid. Patience, kindness, self-control. I am just as indulged as you are, just as loved, just as undeserving. I still act like it’s owed to me, this grace, this love. I’m grateful but not grateful enough. I’m still a bad girl.

I am the blind leading the blind, kid. I’m still in the dark. I can’t let you see that, though, because then we’ll both fall off this narrow bridge we’re walking together over dangerous waters. I’ve got to keep faking my vision until 4:00 pm. You don’t even know what the word “patience” really means, and I’m not sure how to teach you right now. You might parrot the definition, might even try it once and wait for the hobby horse, your heart twisting in your chest; but feats of Zen are rarely accomplished in kindergarten, in my experience. There’s plenty of gut-wrenching pain, though.

And what if that’s not what you’re thinking at all? What if I’m not even listening to you? What if you are not a small version of me at all, and my selfishness is cheating you of your own identity and your own tragic flaws? It may be a coincidence that your words, your voice, your face take me back twenty years. Or twenty minutes.