Sam does not know what happened in Baton Rouge last week. She does not know what happened outside Saint Paul. She does not know what happened in Dallas. She does not know about the protests, counter-protests and vitriol raining down from every direction. She does not know that our neighbors got in their car at 8:00 in the evening, opened their garage door to leave, and were greeted by a gunman who forced them out of the car and drove it away. Two hundred feet from our house. I hide the newspaper and listen to the radio in private. Kelly knows about the tragedies, the outrage, the fear and the despair, but not her sister. Kelly can compartmentalize and rationalize and ignore. Not so, Sam.
I need to stop here and say that this is not a political blog, and it will not become one. The causes of social upheaval should be discussed, but elsewhere. This is a blog about parenting and neurodiversity, and any comments need to be restricted to parenting and neurodiversity.
So why withhold bad news from Sam? Why shield her like this? One reason, the smallest, is that it shields me. Sam believes everything she hears and everything she reads. Trying to prove the complete factual inaccuracy or misinterpretation of events that ill-informed people spout out exhausts me.
The bigger reason is that Sam personalizes everything she hears. When she is agitated and not moving into the 1860s, her most frequent go-to concern now is that she deserves to be punished, persecuted or killed because she is Caucasian. She knows plenty about the history of race relations and injustice, and she has internalized every bit of it as her own, sole responsibility. I remonstrate that no one deserves to be punished, persecuted or killed because of their race, no one including her. Her only responsibilities are to treat other people with respect and try to find a facet of the world that she, when she becomes an adult, might strive to improve. Her self-torment does not cease though. She tells me that some people want her to be inferior or be killed for being Caucasian, as retribution, and they must be right. I lie and tell her no one wants that.
Sam worries about our African-American neighbors, friends and classmates—a significant percentage of the population in our part of the world. I assure her that her friends are safe. Just as no one wants to hurt her, no one wants to hurt them. No one would mistake them for criminals. I know that I’m being disingenuous, but I lie just the same.
She worries about being Jewish. I lie and tell her anti-Semitism no longer exists in our country. She worries about being treated as a lesser person because she is female. I lie and assure her that double standards are a thing of the past. She worries that she will be accused of being anti-feminist if she wants to get married and stay at home to raise her children. I lie and tell her no subgroup of feminists will judge her ill for choosing this path. She worries that she should be killed for her carbon footprint. She worries both that there is something wrong with her for not being a lesbian and that our LGBT friends and family members will face discrimination. I did not tell her about Orlando, but I do tell her that our friends are safe and she is safe being the person she is. I no longer know when I believe what I’m saying.
In short, Sam worries that every bad thing that happens will happen to her, and every bad thing that happens is also her fault. She is the culprit or the victim in every scenario. Nothing is not about her.
Kelly, on the other hand, knows enough about history and enough about current events to feel compassion and outrage. The difference is that she proceeds the way most of us do: she compartmentalizes the news, rationalizes away the danger to herself and her circumscribed community, and moves on with her day. Perhaps, as in the case with the carjacker, she shifts her habits to enter and exit through the front door rather than the garage. She may wear a wristband in solidarity with a cause. But she will still do her homework, watch her favorite television show, root for her preferred athletes at the Olympic trials, and sleep well at night. She and Candide will tend their own gardens. (Although I wonder if even Candide could escape the Facebook furies.) She is well-adjusted.
I hear voices scolding me: your children should know what is happening; they should care! But to what end? Sam absorbs the history, the fear and the recriminations. She asks exactly those questions we parents, who want our children to embrace an ethos of civic responsibility, want asked. But how much do we really want them to internalize? Sam has no filtering mechanism to protect herself. As with sensory input, no comment, no complaint, no accusation can be ignored or dismissed. No context clues help her to exclude herself from the turmoil. What is the point of informing her if she is either barricaded in her house or smacking herself like a thirteenth century flagellant?
So I do not share the news with this particularly vulnerable child who cannot build any walls between herself and the pain of the world. I share it with the one who is capable, mercifully, of caring less—the one who will absorb it, grieve, and then talk to her friends about their favorite new songs.