Monday, December 06, 2021

Among The Worst Ideas Humans Have Ever Had

Rog was in love with Marian, who loved him back. It was one of those cute preschool romances where children were exploring the loving adult relationships they see in their lives by acting out one of their own. But one day, Rog arrived to find that Marian had changed her mind. She was, she informed him, going to marry Titus instead.

Rog was frantic. He spent his morning gamely drawing pictures for Marian, offering her snack foods, and otherwise striving to convince her to change her mind. By mid-day, however, the reality had set in. In despair he threw himself onto the floor amidst the costumes, his head pressed into a corner. I went to console him, but he sent me away. When his friends then tried, he ran from the classroom and down the hallway. I found him in tears behind a door.

It wasn't so cute any more. The emotions he was feeling were real. I sat near him until he had calmed himself enough to say, "I want to marry her, but she only wants to marry Titus!" which cast him back into despair.

As he finally emerged into the initial pain of acceptance, I listened to him. At one point he had the idea of talking about it with the whole group at circle time.

This immediately struck me as a bad idea. Certainly, no one wants to share their broken heart with the world, but he was insistent so I told him that if he still wanted to talk about it when we gathered together on the checkerboard rug, he should raise his hand and I'd call on him. I assumed that after some time to reflect he would think better of it. After all, these aren't the sorts of things one wants discussed in public.

His hand, however, was up before we had even all assembled. When I called on him, he declared, "I love Marian but she doesn't love me any more. She loves Titus." I realized even as he said it that he wasn't telling anyone anything they didn't already know. Everything about their preschool relationship had been public knowledge from the start.

Marian confirmed Rog's assessment matter-of-factly from where she sat beside Titus.

One of Rog's buddies said, "That's okay, you can just marry somebody else!"

"Yeah," said another, "Marian gets to marry whoever she wants and you get to marry somebody else."

Rog made some comment about how he didn't want to marry any of the other girls in the class and his friend responded, "Well then just marry one of the boys. I'll marry you if you want."

Someone else chimed in that they were going to wait until they were a grown-up to get married and the conversation took off from there. We discussed sex and divorce and how babies are made. We shared what we knew about body parts and their functions. Before long I realized that these children, in many ways, understood more than I had at 18.

You see, I grew up in places and in an era in which talking about relationships and particularly sexual ones was taboo. It wasn't a topic of conversation in my home, my church, or my school. Or rather, it wasn't discussed when adults were present, because us kids tended to share what we knew in whispers, which wasn't a lot, and even that was largely, and often profoundly, inaccurate.

It was an era of children teaching children through trial and error, without even the dubious support of the internet to answer our questions. Pregnancy, sexually transmitted disease, and toxic relationships were hidden away in the dark corners where we discussed them, in our ignorance, not knowing what to believe. The adults in our lives would have been useful, but for most of us, we feared that to talk with teachers would have resulted in our parents being called in for a "conference," who would, in turn, scold, shame, or even punish us, without really shedding any light on our questions. So we were left alone in the dark with one another.

There are still large swaths of the US where we leave our children to learn about sex and relationships in this way, but for the past couple decades, I've been a part of a community in which most of the preschool-aged children in my life come from families who are striving to normalize these conversations.

As these children consoled their friend through frank and honest talk, cobbling together a perfectly age-appropriate curriculum, supported by adults who corrected misinformation and refrained from judgement, I saw clearly that not talking about sex certainly stands among the worst ideas humans have ever had.


"Teacher Tom, our caped hero of all things righteous in the early childhood world, inspires us to be heroic in our own work with young children, and reminds us that it is the children who are the heroes of the story as they embark on adventures of discovery, wonder, democracy, and play." ~Rusty Keeler
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