On today’s episode of As the Bathwater Cools, Barbie finds herself in a rather awkward situation.
Ariel: Hi! Want to be friends?
Barbie: Yes! Oh, I love your hair.
Ariel: Thank you! I love your hair too.
Barbie: Thank you very much!
Ariel: Say, do you want to get married?
Barbie: Yes! Oh yes, let’s get married!
Ariel: Yay! Let’s go get ready for the wedding tonight!
Rapunzel: HEY! You said you would marry ME!
Barbie: Oh, that’s right. I’m sorry Ariel; I already said I would marry Rapunzel.
Ariel: Oh. *sigh* That’s OK.
My husband stuck his head into the bathroom with an unmistakable did-I-just-hear-what-I-think-I-heard expression on his face. I just sat back from the tub after listening to this little bath-time enactment of an amicable lovers quarrel with a slightly sheepish grin on my face. Yes, perhaps I had a hand in this one.
Sometimes you find yourself having conversations that you never intended to have, at least not yet. Why do I feel like I am saying this all the time now? I find myself having these conversations a lot lately.
Let’s back up a few months.
It started with a simple question, which of course did not have a simple answer. I had about 10 seconds to decide how I was going to handle it (during which she repeated the question over and over) followed by hours to come of wondering if I handled it right:
“Can girls marry girls?”
Oh man! How are you supposed to provide this answer to a five year old? This is one of those instances where everyone has a very strong opinion not only on how it should be answered, but also on what the answer should be. With that opinion come facts but also religious belief and personal or family values. I usually have a policy with myself that when the life questions that perhaps shouldn’t be asked yet come about; I will answer truthfully with as little embellishment as possible followed by a healthy dose of distraction (Look! It’s a tree!). And yet on this one I just kept talking.
I told her the facts, and I added my opinion; all of it. One answer raised another question followed by another, and before I knew it I was hosting her first lesson on human rights. I thought, I hoped, she was ready to hear it.
You see I struggle with how we should teach our children about the tough subjects, and when certain conversations are age appropriate. There is so much information that comes at our little ones from all angles; parents, siblings, extended family, friends, teachers, spiritual advisors, television, not mention life observances at the super market, the park, etc. I worry about what information will stay with them, and who will get to them first. I think of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie all of the time:
“Give me a girl at an impressionable age, and she is mine for life.”
As that spontaneous conversation between my daughter and I unfolded, I had the sense that whatever I said right then and there would become a part of her foundation. She would build her own belief system throughout her life, but a piece of me and what I said to her would always be there. So I told her everything that I believe on that topic and brought it down to her level as much as I could, and I decided not to worry about other people’s views or what she could repeat. This is who I am, what I believe, and what I hope for my child. If anyone is going to lay down that foundation, for better or for worse it should be me.
I told her that of course girls can marry girls, when they are old enough. I said that if two people love each other we have no right to keep them apart. I explained that I believe that the rules which apply to me and her father as a married couple, and what we get to do or not do because we are married, should be the same for every citizen of this country. I also told her that there are people who do not agree with me, and places in this world and in this country where girls are not allowed to marry girls and boys are not allowed to marry boys.
Of course her follow up was to ask where in this country this important human right is not allowed. She has been learning about our states, so I explained that it was most of them. Leaving out the ones that allow some form of civil union, I rattled off the few that I could remember which do allow same-sex marriage, mostly in the north east. We talked about how proud I am to live in Massachusetts where everyone has this choice, and wise beyond her years she wondered why girls just don’t come here if they want to get married.
Wow. I responded that it is my belief that by time she is an adult many laws will change, and that more states will allow it too.
Fast forward to a few weeks ago, and as much as I can recall exactly, this is what she randomly announced to me:
“We are lucky, because we live in Massachusetts, where girls and boys can get married, and boys and boys can get married, and girls and girls can get married. Because not every state lets you do that. But maybe someday more will. By the time I am older hopefully they will.”
I just smiled at her and said, “That’s right Sweetie.” At that moment, I knew in my heart that I did right thing.
Even if I have to watch her dolls fight their way to the altar every bath.