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?

Does he realize my face is wet from tears as I kiss him good night?

NYTimes: B’Nai Israel Cemetery in Monroe, Conn., where Noah Pozner, 6, is to be buried today.Sitting just outside the kids’ room, on the cold tiled floor in the hallway, scrolling through articles on my phone. Silently scanning Newtown coverage, reading Newtown stories, seeing Newtown pictures as my son restlessly attempts sleep, deep within his bottom bunk.

“Ima, can you tuck me in?”

I don’t even bother wiping the tears from my face; it’s soaked and the evening chill stings my cheeks as I stand up.

He’s looking at me while I don’t make eye contact, lifting his little body up with one hand and stuffing the blanket underneath his back, the way he likes it. Tight like a hug.

I smooth it out on top of his belly and look at him. Kiss the place where his cheek and his nose meet.

What does this child know?

Does he realize my face is wet from tears as I kiss him good night?

Does he assume that I’ll always be there, even if I’m not?

Is he aware of the hidden demons that take shape around the world while we’re busy playing? Busy living?

Do American first graders practicing school lockdowns know why they’re lining up and locking doors?

Is there a way to fix it all, fix it like my son so passionately pretends to, fix the pain, the mess, the loss, the inevitability?

What might our children know?

 

Retro Europe: the anti-Semitism still spills the blood of children in 2012.

In case you were feeling lost in the big bad world today, the world of terrorism, bus bombs, embassy bombs, car bombs, nuclear bomb threats, rocket launchers…

Today we are exposed to some run-of-the-mill old fashioned European anti-Semitism. Of the absolute worst kind: the cold-blooded point-and-shoot murder of Jewish children.

In 2012 France.

The gunman was on a scooter, stopped, and went towards Toulouse district’s Ozar Hatorah Jewish day school and shot at the kids and teachers, indiscriminately, as they were going into the building.

Apparently, French police believe it is the same person who shot and killed Muslim/Arab immigrant French soldiers last week, in the same district, in a similar fashion.

To be honest, aside from their names and ages, I can’t get myself to read every bloody detail about this horrific tragedy for the Jewish people today. I can’t handle more children dying in cold blood. More hatred based on stupidity and ignorance.

Yet, here I am, doing it anyway.

Explain to me how spilling the blood of a small child proves your point? (Explain to me why I should listen to you?)

The murdered victims of the shooting (there were others seriously injured) include:

  • Rabbi Yonatan Sandler, 30, an Israeli-French teacher at the school
  • Aryeh, 3, son of Rabbi Sandler
  • Gavriel, 6, also son of Rabbi Sandler
  • Miriam Montenago, 8, daughter of the school’s principal Rabbi Yaakov Monsonego

Somehow, some way, their families should find peace and comfort and the killer should be served the justice he deserves, which I’m pretty sure doesn’t exist in this world.

Color ignorant.

The innocence of babes is alive and well… even if it’s for just a few short years.

Koala and I were looking at a book last night. He pointed to a picture of a brown-skinned teacher.

“What’s that?”

“A teacher.”

Pointing lower, “what’s that?”

“Her legs.”

“What’s the brown?”

I’ve been wondering when he’d ask.

“That’s her skin.” I rubbed my arms and face. “Do you see your skin? It’s everywhere.”

He rubbed his face.

“Her skin is brown. What color is your skin?”

Koala looked at his arms and hands.

“Red.”

“Ok… what color is Bebe’s?”

He looks over at her on the floor. “Green.”

I laugh. “There are different colors. But everybody has skin.”

 

Ma’ase B’chamisha Googlim: Google’s logo for Miriam Rut.

Google Israel has a cutie logo today in honor of Miriam Rut‘s birthday (1910-2005).

Mi zot? Aside from an educator and gannenet, she is known as the author of tons of Israeli classic children’s books, including  תירס חם, the more recent hit יובל המבלבל, and the ever-classic מעשה בחמישה בלונים, depicted in the logo:

The logo is in the style of Ora Eyal, illustrator for many Israeli classics including the ones listed above.

It’s nice to see local love!

Bully.

Koala comes over and yanks off my glasses.

“No! Mama is blind, c’mon…”

He bends back the left arm with his little fist. The second pair he’s ruined in a week.

“Oh, c’mon? Why you gotta be so mean?”

I go upstairs and get my next spare pair.

“Look, Koala! Do you like Mama’s ugly glasses for emergencies?”

After a sharp look of disgust, he walks off to the, apparently, cooler parent.

Wait until genetics hits you hard, Koala.

Thank you for not smoking. Seriously.

I work in the Israeli equivalent of a big, fancy office building. That basically means it was built to be big and fancy, but it’s half empty and constantly under shiputzim (renovations).

My daily exercise consists of taking the stairs as opposed to the elevator to get to my office, so the ‘no smoking’ signs stuck in the stairwells are already a subconscious part of my climb.

Despite a ‘no smoking indoors’ policy, officially and non-profit stickerly, the stairwells always reek of smoke.

So today I wasn’t necessarily surprised to see that someone had taken it upon themselves to deliver a stronger message:

Hey, this is Israel. It takes more than soft diplomatic words to get what you want ’round these parts.

So would you please stop murdering the pregnant women and their unborn children with your nasty, poisonous, teeth-yellowing habit?

The shaking of my non-faith.

You may think you have everything to lose until you have a kid. Yeah, I had stuff to lose before… but now everything I had to lose is seen in the new light of having a kid and thus everything to lose. 

Which is why today it dawned on me: My family lives in Israel. Israel. There are a lot of messed-up places in this world. In fact, most of the world is covered in messed-up places, circumstances, people. And I have chosen to live and raise my child in one of them. One of the more dramatically messed-up ones, that is. 

I’ve always been a morbid person. I save it for when I’m alone and free to think out every ridiculous scenario. And, every so often I’d get these morbid freak-outs before my son was born, nearly four weeks ago. They’d end in, ‘well, we’ll figure it all out when/if the time comes.” 

Now, needless to say, the morbidity is growing in intensity and frequency, covering a range of topics. And I find myself alone and free to think  more often these days.

I’ve even  managed to put a morbid damper on my son getting his new citizenship(s) and passport(s). Like – well, what if he really needs to use these to escape? What if there’s someone out there who really would harm a little boy, Jewish, Israeli, whatever? How will we protect him? 

I’m not a praying woman for the most part. I don’t have the kind of unshakable religious faith in the destiny of this country that others have. I’m pretty practical when it comes to all that. 

And here is my non-faith, shaken, by this tiny little boy, all  mine to protect in this messed-up world.

Maybe this is how one becomes a praying woman.