Snowman Carnage

I’ve already posted about this on Facebook, but the incident seems to require its own entry.

See the lovely snowman at the top of the page? The snowman that Owen and I built together last weekend? Well, on Monday, someone broke his nose off. Owen was a bit sad, so I went inside to get another carrot. The snow had hardened to such an extent, though, that I couldn’t get the broken carrot out.

We live in a college town. The place is full of CEGEP (and high school) students, many of whom walk past our door daily on their way to their cars, to the village, or to the waterfront. I love living in a college town. I love bumping into my students while pulling Owen on a sled or while shopping in town. I have in general had a great rapport with my students. I’m fond of them, like to see them outside of class, and have never (yet) felt threatened.

Other teachers have felt threatened. Just last semester, a colleague of mine received a very serious death threat. We deal with (potentially and actually) mentally unstable students on a regular basis. I know two other colleagues who are presently uncomfortable because of behaviour of students in their classes, behaviour that has the very real potential to get outside the classroom and closer to their homes.

So when I tell you this story, please realize that I do not really feel threatened. And yet.

On Tuesday, Owen and I got home to our half-nosed snowman. The snow was softer, so we replaced the nose with a new carrot. Owen was pleased. We stood outside and chatted about how the squirrels that are trying to get into our house should really try living in a tree.

“We say ‘No squirrels! You not eat our house. You make a hole in a tree! That’s a good idea!'”

After a while, we went inside. When I re-emerged at about 6:45, on my way to take some students to a play, the snowman was gone. I looked closer. The body had been knocked over and its head was on our front porch. Our neighbour came out of her house and asked if we’d heard the head hit the house. We hadn’t, but she had. Whoever did it ran away and in the process (apparently) almost got hit by a car.

Again – I know, right? – it’s a snowman. It’s not like someone left a horse’s head on my front step or anything. But I couldn’t stop wondering – coincidence or conspiracy? I started searching my brain for anyone in my classes I might have offended. Honestly, I think it was completely random, an act of stupidity, probably fuelled by friends.

Owen was surprisingly philosophical: “Maybe the man will come tomorrow and say he sorry. That would make me very happy,” he said, nodding his head.

The next day he told Duncan that he needed to build another “strong” snowman.

He’s still (actively) waiting for that apology. Still, I was really pleased to see his toddler sense of justice – you do something that isn’t nice, possibly impetuous, but then you always apologize, and all is right with the world.

The Right Lie

Owen ran into the kitchen tonight, eyes bright with the beginnings of tears, lower lip quivering, on the very edge of crying. He was frightened.

I was making supper and, while I cooked, I was letting him watch Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. It’s a bit too old for him, but he seemed to like it. I had watched a bit of it with him and had explained that the mean queen wanted to hurt Snow White but that it would be OK in the end. Snow White would be happy. She would, of course, live happily ever after.

Owen was really taken in by the scene where Snow White, seeing the Dwarfs’ messy house, concludes that they don’t have a mother. Owen caught on right away: “Maybe her can be their mother? I love Snow White. She can be my friend?”

Something in the film scared him, though. I think it was the transformation from the evil stepmother into the old crone. He kept saying that there was a mean lady queen and a mean man queen and they made him scared. He said this over and over again.

I reassured him as best I could. I said that the mean queen would hurt Snow White but that Snow White would get better and it would be OK. I told him that the mean queen (man or woman) couldn’t hurt him. That they had to stay inside the video. I told him if he got scared we could just close the computer. I told him I wouldn’t let them hurt him. I told him I wouldn’t let anyone hurt him.

That last one, of course, a little white lie.

And as I held him to me, reassuring him, kissing his little cheek, I was aware that I was lying, aware that it was the right lie. I will not willingly let anyone hurt my little boy, but I won’t be able to prevent him from being hurt. We all get hurt, repeatedly, relentlessly, even in the most mundane of lives. Even in lives full of love and good intentions. Still, he seemed soothed by my promise. “You won’t let anyone hurt me?”

“No, of course not, Owen. Of course I won’t.”

Parts that Nature Taught us to Conceal

Help.

Now, it’s not chronic, and I don’t know if he says this to anyone else, but lately, Owen has been yelling out “boobies and penises!” (quite joyfully), to see if he can get a reaction out of us. We try not to react. We tell him that it’s not appropriate. That it’s not polite. That we all have these things but we don’t talk about them.

“We all have boobies and penises?”

“Yes. Well, no. Only boys have penises.”

“But everybody have boobies?”

“Well, sort of, except some are bigger than others.”

“I have little boobies?”

“Yes”

“And you have…” (You see where this is going).

Owen has yet to ask “why” with any degree of seriousness. When we ask him why he’s sad, or why he’s grumpy, he usually responds by saying “I sad because I sad” or “I grumpy because I no want to do that.” Last week, when he got to daycare late because of a trip to the doctor, he cried so much Duncan had to pick him up almost immediately. Back home (and perfectly well, by the way), we asked him “Why didn’t you want to be at daycare, Owen?”

He turned the question back on us: “I was at daycare and I cried and I was sad, and Daddy came to get me and he say why you sad, Owen, why, why, why?” Pause. “I happy now.”

Anyway, I keep anticipating his question, “why” – why don’t we talk about penises and boobies? Social convention? Because we cover them with clothes and like to pretend that they don’t exist?

I was teaching Part IV of Gulliver’s Travels today (the section on the Houyhnhnms and Yahoos). The Houyhnhnms, hyper-rational talking horses, do not understand Gulliver’s desire to wear clothing. Gulliver explains that clothes are essentially worn to protect against “the inclemencies of air, both hot and cold,” but he also asks that his Houyhnhnm master not force him to reveal “those parts that nature taught us to conceal.”  His master replies that Gulliver’s “discourse was all very strange, but especially the last part; for he could not understand, why nature should teach us to conceal what nature had given; that neither himself nor family were ashamed of any parts of their bodies.”

Gulliver’s comment is meant to be ironic, since it is not nature but custom that prevents us from showing our private parts; to the Houyhnhnms, clothing seems to be another form of concealment practiced by humankind, a kind of sartorial lying (or, in Houyhnhnm speech, “the thing which is not“).

I try to be honest with Owen. I try to tell him the truth, so that even if he doesn’t understand exactly what I’m explaining, I’ve at least tried. But in this case, I feel a bit two-faced. I don’t at all want him going to daycare and asking people about penises and boobies. But I am also having a hard time of thinking up a real reason why he can’t.

I would love to hear how you have negotiated these waters.