I can’t tell you how happy I’m going to be in a week when this presidential election is over. I also can’t imagine very many of you would disagree with me, either. I’m hopeful that next Wednesday, we’re all going to wake up and feel like Andy Dufresne in The Shawshank Redemption after he escapes from the prison. We’ll enjoy sweet freedom, but only after crawling through five hundred yards of raw sewage. I suspect the reality is that we’re all going to sit up and realize that nope, the poop whiff is still in the air and all our nice clothes are still stained, but who knows? I might be pretty jaded by now.
Do you want to know what I’m not going to miss? I’m not going to be sad about not having to run interference between the tv news and my daughter. And I’m not just talking about the salacious stuff, although wow, I won’t miss having THAT conversation, either. The discussion I hate is the one where I explain to my trusting daughter that the people who are so earnestly destroying each other verbally on television aren’t always or even usually telling the truth. (I’m not going to try to hide my own biases and pretend that one of them isn’t, in my opinion, astronomically worse than the other.) I hate that part of my job during this election season is to convince Schuyler to distrust, to be skeptical.
This isn’t just an election year task, I realize. For Schuyler, it’s an ongoing situation, one that I suspect is shared by many other special needs parents. We are constantly vigilant with her, because Schuyler is a trusting person, to an almost shocking degree. She trusts easily, and she does so until it is beaten out of her by circumstance. Schuyler’s trust is born from naivety, and from a belief that people are good unless you know for a fact that they aren’t. The world has black and white characters, heroes and villains, protagonists and antagonists who are never the same people. And the things she believes are validated very strongly by her trust in the people who tell them to her.
It makes for challenging parenting. Schuyler’s religious beliefs are no doubt heavily influenced by what she gets from her parents, although Julie and I don’t believe the exact same thing, so at least Schuyler gets to see how differing beliefs don’t keep people from co-existing. But our beliefs aren’t THAT different, and neither of us are religious. So neither is Schuyler. I’d be tempted, maybe a little, to feel guilt for that, but the fact is, everyone influences their kids and their beliefs to some degree. Those kids may grow up to rebel, but even then, their springboard is the belief system they were given. This is one of the few early bonuses of parenting. We all get to raise our kids in our own way. It’s what we sign on for when the hospital hands us a baby and says “Here, this is yours. Go mess it up however you like.”
The challenge for Schuyler, however, is to eventually develop her own belief system, based on her own conclusions and not because someone she loves or respects believes something, too. There are influences in life, but Schuyler’s impressionability goes far beyond that. It won’t always be like this, and she’s already beginning to come to her own conclusions on a great many things. But it’s still something that falls on us, to make sure she understands the difference between things that are true and things that are beliefs. And that’s hard to do as a parent sometimes, because in order to teach her the difference, we have to know it ourselves.
Taking a complicated world and making it simpler somehow, that’s tricky. It’s not about simplifying information so that someone with a developmental disability can understand it so much as it’s the task of taking a world that doesn’t make a lot of sense and trying to make it logical. That’s not just about lying, shouting, awful politicians during election cycles, either. It’s about watching the news and trying to explain why someone would want to walk into a nightclub or a church or an elementary school and kill as many people as they can. It’s about trying to explain why some people are so full of hate because of the sexual orientation or the race or just the difference of other people that they’d want to take away their rights or their joy or even their lives. Sometimes it’s about why someone whose job it is to make people laugh goes onto a stage and makes fun of people like Schuyler, or why it might be that when they do that, other people think it’s funny.
I hate this election season, like I hate anything that I find difficulty in explaining to Schuyler not because it’s complex, but because it’s just kind of bad. I feel like every time she hears me explain why a person running for president would lie or mock someone who’s different or say gross things, it dents her a little. Every realization that the world can be awful leaves a little scuff. I hate trying to make sense out of a nationally known comedian going on television and using hate speech to tell the world that she and her friends aren’t fully human. I hate having to tell her that someone wants to be president of her country but they probably aren’t good enough at heart to deserve that job. I hate trying to distill a hard world into something she can digest. I hate having to sell injustice as one of those things that she’s just going to have to accept sometimes.
I hate doing that, because worst case scenario is that I fail and she gets eaten up by that rough world.
And the best case scenario is that I succeed, and her own world becomes just a little uglier.
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