What we can learn about the ‘innocence of children’ from Goodnight Moon

So here’s something. I received a link to the following article today (thanks cuz); a submission to the New York Times Draft blog for writers.

What Writers Can Learn From ‘Goodnight Moon’

Though I was certainly an English major, I’ve actually never, believe it or not, fully analysed an entire critique of Goodnight Moon before. And this piece, focused on writing technique, spoke to me as a writer – there are definitely interesting technique takeaways in there.

But today specifically, I took something else away too. It had actually already been on my mind. And that related to the perceived ‘innocence’ of children.

Here’s what the author, Aimee Bender, has to say about the way Goodnight Moon differs from other children’s books:

It works like a sonata of sorts, but, like a good version of the form, it does not follow a wholly predictable structure. Many children’s books do, particularly for this age, as kids love repetition and the books supply it. They often end as we expect, with a circling back to the start, and a fun twist. This is satisfying but it can be forgettable.

This had me circling back to what I, quite literally, woke up to this morning: my five-year-old son showing us a drawing he made of a boy, perhaps himself, choosing shelter during a rocket attack.

With everything going on lately – in the world, downed planes, civil wars, massacres, and at home, rockets, air strikes, terrorist kibbutz plots, collateral damage – I’ve been wondering lately how much innocence really is lost from children. How much innocence they have in the first place.

Are children as innocent as we assume, and if not, should we be pretending so?

Around the world, millions of children lose their innocence a lot earlier than say, middle class Western kids. And that includes plenty of American kids who are homeless, poor, hungry, and trapped in a devastating lifestyle.

How much innocence is there, really? Is it, say, a shelter of sorts, from an eventuality? Is it the lucky few who even get to experience the so-called innocence?

Is it our own regret at reaching the threshold of adulthood, passing through it, and forever exposing ourselves to the world we’ve actually been living in the whole time?

Back to Goodnight Moon. What always bugged me about it is that it’s not smooth. It’s not neat. The author lays out the room, and then goes on with the goodnight chant, which is perfectly natural, but the contents of the chant don’t match up. The pages aren’t parallel.

What a surprise, then, to find that there is a blank page with “Goodnight nobody” out of nowhere, sharing a spread with “Goodnight mush.” What a surprise, then, that the story does not end with the old lady whispering “hush” but goes out the window into the night.

Goodnight Moon feels like it should be a tidy tale. It’s not – it’s bumpy. What you expect doesn’t actually happen.

Perhaps that is a piece of children’s literature that speaks truth to children who are supposedly ‘innocent’ or blank slates. In fact, a little bit of a bumpy ride might feel natural to a small child who hasn’t yet neatly summed up the world as good vs evil.

There’s been talk lately about how much to expose to our young kids, how far to go to protect their ‘innocence.’ I’m just not sure how much of that is a construct of the safe situations we were lucky to grow up in. In which, eventually, we too lost our innocence.

Kids, even living on the safest terms, don’t exist in a vacuum. And I reckon they’ve figured out long before we think they do that life isn’t a Disney movie. So what should we have them think in times of stress? When things get ‘real’?

If it’s real for us, surely it’s real for them?

What do you think?

War time in Israel

It’s different this time. I guess it’s always different. It’s different this time because I don’t have enough fingers to count how many people I know, by first or second degree, who are called up, serving or waiting to serve in Gaza.

And whereas in the past I figured the odds were too out there, I guess this time… it’s all just too close to home.

I don’t have a lot to say. The heart is heavy, the stomach is lead. The beep beep beeeep of the hourly news is louder than before. The prime minister sounds different.

We’re meant to go about our day, otherwise the terrorists win, but that is a really unnatural sensation.

We smile, we softly laugh. Occasionally, we lift our heads at the sound of a phantom siren. We hug our kids even tighter in the evening. We hear explosions from 90 minutes away. We go to work in the morning.

We read the names of the dead sons and really, there is no sigh of relief when you don’t recognize the name.

Because even though it’s not your own friend or brother or cousin or coworker… it’s someone else’s.

 

The facts about Gaza that we’re not saying

For the last few days I’ve had this lump in my throat, blocking me from saying something I feel but haven’t been able to articulate.

Do you know what I feel when the window’s been shut, the door is locked, and I’ve sat down on the floor of our safe room?

I feel incredibly lucky.

Lucky to have a roof over my head, lucky to have a government watching over my safety, as much as the means churn my guts. Lucky there are laws that buildings must be built with safe rooms now. Lucky that I can get to mine within single-digit seconds, let alone that I actually have 90 of them. Lucky that I know once the door is closed, chances are pretty much 100% – based on my location and building structure – that we will be totally fine.

It’s horrible that there are thousands of eighth and ninth graders in the south of Israel who have never known a different life than constant trauma. There are no words to adequately sum up that situation. It’s horrible they haven’t always been given proper support from our government – that they’ve had to push for it throughout the years. It’s horrible that things only get really serious when the rockets creep out towards the center.

Here’s the part I’m having the specific trouble with.

Israel – the entire Jewish world, in fact – is still pushing through a very low time. A roller coaster that ended up crashing after the highs and lows – when we found the bodies of the three kidnapped teens. We supposedly felt unified, we felt as one, we felt each other’s pain, and for just a few minutes, forgot the clothes we were wearing, the type of headgear we may or may not don, we let it go in order to cry together.

Then it got worse.

Our national pride – our infinite price on life – was stabbed right through its core, when at least three young individuals took an innocent Jerusalem Arab boy’s life in their hands, in a way unfathomable. We wrung our hands, we cried out in pain, we condemned and we distanced.

And now… now we’re combating Hamas in Gaza. Again. For the third time in six years. It’s complicated. Of course it’s complicated. In so many directions, it’s complicated. The rockets that are targeted over here, the rockets that are targeted over there. The history, the context, the instability.

The fact that to protect ourselves, we cause A LOT of collateral damage.

While I do believe the IDF embraces a military culture that tries harder than others to preserve life… to use intelligent targeting, to warn civilians – and I do believe Hamas puts its own people on the line to make its grisly point…

We’re just not acknowledging it enough. We are not ok with this. We are not ok with trying our best and it still causing loss of life. We must not be complacent about it. If “murder is murder is murder”, so too, life is life is life.

And as I watch the rocket reports happen live over social media among my peers – meaning those as lucky as I am, scattered across Israel, absorbing the terror and the sadness and the frustration in each individual’s own way – all I can think is, everything about this discussion is us, us, us.

Rockets explode over our homes. Debris is caught on Tel Aviv streets. Posting what we were doing when the siren sounded (again). Posting what our kids thought. Posting what other people should think. Posting with humor, a nationalistic characteristic to get through the pain. Posting repeated hasbara – what some might call, without irony, ‘truthful propaganda.’

Stats. Infographics. Diagrams of missiles. What the IDF is doing next. How much we all appreciate the Iron Dome technology. What we should be doing next. What we shouldn’t. What we feel. What we don’t feel.

I don’t think we have to take away from all of that – especially the stress and pain at watching our friends and family get called down to the front line – in order to recognize this next point.

Gazans… ordinary Gazans – who do exist – Gazans… have none of it.

No Iron Dome.

No government that actually cares truly to make their nation function.

No safe rooms.

No privacy.

The fact is… no matter what propaganda, theories, or the truth we don’t know yet dictates -

Innocents are dying.

But Hamas takes its own citizens hostage!

Children are dying.

But Hamas uses them as human shields!

But an entire people – yes, a group that lives together and dies together deserves to be called, and very much is, a people – an entire people is being tortured by multiple forces, pulling at them this way and that.

And I’m not saying we have to spend hours arguing over whose fault that is. I’m not saying it’s one way or another. I’m not trying to get into a political shit swamp because if I cared for that, I might post hasbara after hasbara after hasbara… on Twitter.

I’m saying in the name of our collective value for life, in the name of our fortunate circumstances that our leaders do care for our safety, in the name of existing as beings on this Earth,

that surely – surely – among the infographics, the op/eds, the ‘fuck you Hamas’, the hashtags, the rocket outcry – we ought to take a moment or two or million and grieve over what’s become of our, of their, humanity.

On sheep in wartime

While driving back from Beit Shemesh, where I dropped off Tzur Hadassah’s contribution to the collection of toys and food for kids and soldiers stuck in shelters and bases in the south…

I saw this scene and it took my breath away. The sound of hundreds of hooves crunching against the grass; watching hundreds of sheep and goats moving together in the same direction; for some reason it’s the most beautiful thing I’ve seen in a while.

Life will go on, with or without our conflicts, our mess, our perspectives, our hate.

I’d rather be a part of it.

The 4th kidnapped boy: that’s called disgust – go ahead and feel it.

Four kidnapped boys

Disgust. There are a lot of things to be utterly disgusted with around here. I feel disgust constantly. It’s usually aimed at opinions that differ from mine; minute triggers related to lifestyles that differ from mine; ways of communicating I don’t agree with.

Shame. That is something I feel less often, but it does come up. There’s plenty of shame where you seek it. Things are not perfect. Things are not even great. But on the whole, they tend not to veer toward inhuman.

Silence. That’s something I cannot tolerate, especially among people so quick to accuse, to blast, to take down. You can’t cry foul and then turn away when it’s one of your own who has brought shame to each and every one of us – across the entire world.

Jews don’t murder? Jews aren’t terrorists?

And how about those times I’ve heard some of my peers joke, or actually call, for revenge, for showing who’s boss, for exerting our right, for taking it into our own hands?

Words actually do kill, when spoken enough, when combined to form an attitude, when condensed into a plan, when sparked into action.

These Jews who kidnapped and murdered – burned alive - 16-year-old Muhammad Abu Khdeir are a stain on all of our souls, no matter what we believe, express, do or not do.

People we considered brothers – whether we agreed with them or not, dressed like them or not - took up revenge against the kidnapping and brutal killing of innocents with the kidnapping and brutal killing of another innocent.

We need to face these horrific facts. There are now four grieving families across our land, in addition to countless others who have grieved, are grieving, and will, inevitably, grieve.

To those who are keeping silent in this case – it’s warranted to weed out the cold blooded among us. To separate them. It’s our responsibility to stare down shame in the face and pluck it from among us.

It’s absolutely natural and necessary to feel washed over in sickness at this news.

Anything that happened before this doesn’t matter. This is not who we are.

If we want to truly continue the much-lauded legacy of unity our three kidnapped boys granted us in their untimely and cruel deaths, we must stand together in condemning the very same of yet another.

Never normal.

image

Living here is not normal.

Life here pushes through – the normal, the stubborn, the ups, the downs – the not normal, the horror, the grief, the methods, the madness.

Life here is limbo. Life here is business as usual. Life here is waiting. Life here is death.

Life here is moving on. Life here is no tear wasted. Life here is blessing god despite death. Life here is worshipping life.

Life here, after the worst is realized, is never normal again.

Life here will live on despite that.

ברוך דיין האמת.

We’re waiting for you.

Day 7.

I believe you are alive. I believe you’ll be ok.

I hope you do, too.

We’re waiting for you.

We’re doing the age-old Israeli dance – living a disrupted, regular life.

Go to work, go to school, put the kids to bed, kiss each other goodnight. While we hope for you.

We think about you. Throughout the day. While getting dressed. On the drive to work. While mindlessly refreshing the news. While preparing dinner. While shutting down for the night.

We think about your parents. We can’t imagine, but we itch to do something that might help. We pray. We wait for updates. We hope for Tzahal.

We’re waiting for you.