I am a single mom to a four year old boy. He is quite literally, my life.
My 60 year old father is really the only male influence he has that is remotely positive as his actual father, who lives two towns over, spends an obligatory 4-8 hours a week with Ashton, and Ashton views his “Donor” as a weekly playdate, for the most part.
From the time Ashton was almost one until he was about 2 ½, he and I lived with my best friend, also a single mother at the time, with three little girls. My sister, until this year, had two girls, and my 60 year old mother is his full time childcare provider when I’m working.
I started him in preschool this past September so that he could socialize with other children his age, and he goes every Tuesday and Thursday for two and a half hours. I always have thought that his was smart, but only because he is mine and because I really have no frame of reference. I’m not used to boys nor am I aware of what you are or are not supposed to know at four years old and quite honestly, I don’t care. I do the best I can to make sure that Ashton gets a explanation for his WHYs and I teach him things as they apply to our life or our toys…
His teachers are floored by the things that he knows and tell me his is “brilliant” when I pick him up after school, always giving me an example of something he said that they just cannot believe came from a boy his age. The latest story just the other day was how truly awed both of his teachers were when he told them that ON and NO had the same letters but made two different words if you “flip flopped” them. These are the types of things I hear that make me think I’m doing alright as a parent. He does have an impeccable memory, and everything in our lives is a song or has a beat… music is our mnemonic device for just about everything. And he’s very musical, therefore, the ability to retain information is comes very naturally to him. He’s been recognizing two and three letter words for at least a year, and now reads sentences and BOB books with expression, which yes, DOES blow my mind a bit. We’ve just recently been practicing the Leap Frog “jingle”
“Silent “e” makes the first vowel say its’ name… (example) take “can,” add “e,” and you’ve got “CANE!””
But…it’s because he thinks it’s fun to sit in front of the refrigerator and make words in the little Leap Frog word game…phonics. Phonics is everything. And I think music is an enormously valuable tool for learning and for teaching.
Thus far, I have given you this information not because I want to brag about my kid. Throw in trains, Hotwheels, playing outside, swimming, open gym, the bank, grocery store, a trampoline, a sandbox, and some random externalities that are always changing, Ashton’s life is very routine and hopefully predictable in a comforting and expectable way…
All of the latter being said, I promised myself when it came down to just the two of us, that I would always try and be as honest as I can to his age at the time of his question. I don’ t want him to know of violence in the world because he’s FOUR. I’ve always called his penis a penis, I made that Coexist video because it’s important to me and I want it to be important to him. When he asks me why people are different or he notices people with handicaps, I tell it like it is because I think he deserves that.
In my opinion, I don’t think that my four year old needs to know that we’re at war and people are dying and building weapons of mass destruction. Yet, after the Haiti earthquake and then all the others around the world, we watched the old and new “We Are the World” videos and I told him that the artists came together to try and raise money for people whose houses had been blown over. I explained that there were injuries and that all people should always help all people because they needed food and water and shelter and all people deserve those things.
There is your background:
Tonight we were driving home from my best friend’s house and from the backseat he said,
“Mommy, what does “arrested” mean?”
For a fraction of a second, I was already starting to answer… but then I stopped when my brain started getting ahead of my mouth and I realized that this was going to be much harder than before that second had started.
Policeman. Ok. A policeman in Ashton’s world…
…drives a police car.
…the car has a siren.
…he can make a fine siren sound.
…there usually are no actual policemen in any of those vehicles because they are Hotwheels, hence they would have to be about the size of an ant.
The only conflicts Ashton really deals with outside of battling with me are the conflicts that Dora, Diego, and Sesame Street face, and quite honestly, he is sometimes upset with them until we sit down together and wait for the characters to solve the problem. I usually try and relate the conflict to our life at some point beyond that, especially if he’s really upset, but nothing is ever devastating. He’d just much rather…play outside. He doesn’t’ see any other television outside of toddler television unless I let him watch Animal Planet or the Doppler Radar. Haha
Also, keep in mind that he has generally only ever played with girls, and because he was the only boy in those circumstances, the girls were typically psyched to center their worlds around him and play with the boy toys.
He has no police-like vocabulary. If you said you were going to shoot him with your gun, he would most likely say,
“OK, but don’t squirt me in the eye…”
…because water comes out of guns…not bullets. And he probably has no idea what a bullet is. And in addition to bullet, you can throw in all other criminally related paraphernalia… including “criminal.”
So…what does “arrested” mean…?
i have no idea.
“well, pal, when people break the law, policemen arrest them.”
Shit. That sucked.
“But what is arrested, Mama?”
“Well, the policemen put handcuffs on bad guys’ wrists like this (wrists crossed out in front pose while I drive) so they can’t run away and them to jail when they break the law.”
He gave me a confused look in the rear view mirror which made me feel like I’d done even worse at this second attempt…
I stayed quiet for a second until his look subsided.
“What’s are handcuffs?”
“Welp…they are um…(feel free to place “Um” anywhere from here until the end because there were a million of them)…these metal circle things nice, Amanda…NICE that you lock around…am I saying this? someone’s wrists so they can’t get away. uhhh, a bad guy’s wrists.
I’m pretty sure that in his 4yr old head was a reaction along the lines of, “…lock around someone’s wrists? Are you fuckin’ kidding me right now?”
OK. So this is where I need you all to join me in stepping outside the box for a second and crawl into the car with me and sit in the passenger seat and pretend that you are telling someone for the first time what it means to break the law, get arrested, and go to jail.
“Well,” he asked after a moment of thought, “what’s is jail?”
insert sound of bomb as it descends from the sky and BOOM! explodes as I sink deeper and deeper…
“Jail is a…big place…a big…building fuck fuck fuck where the policemen take the bad guys actually, Amanda not everyone who gets arrested is a bad guy but whatever and they…um…”
OK. OK, person in the passenger seat. Finish that sentence…go on, finish that sentence!!
“…they…stay in a room…because they didn’t follow the rules and um…they have to stay there…for –“
I have no idea how this happens but within the next second, he had a stream of actual tears falling down his cheeks, the outside light reflecting off his welled up eyes, magnifying and deepening the innocent brightest blue you’ve ever seen in your life within his perfect world as I crushed and stomped all over it.
As he blinks out more tears,
“You mean they can’t ever come home?” OMG what have I done? “And then I’ll have NO ONE?!”
“OH NO, baby! OH NO!” I’m reaching in the back seat as we come up Waterworks Hill to grab his hand and GO GO GADGET ARM to wipe his waterfall of tears into my hand of fucking regret. “MOMMY isn’t going to jail! I will never let my registration run out 6 months ago again and I will never speed and I will never lie cheat steal drink drug Mommies don’t go to jail, honey, yes they do – um hello? Casey Anthony psycho mom shut up shut up only bad people…drowning drowning, grabbing for straws you suck! You suck! Really REALLY bad people, sweetie. No one in our family your father doesn’t count is ever going to go to jail, honey. “
Am I setting him up for failure? Should he already know that these things exist? Remember a few years ago when he was still in the stroller on Halloween and the SoANDSo family came to trick or treat with one of the girls and their little boy (who was 5 at the time) was all decked out in his camo gear with a camouflage painted face and an enormous machine gun and he was speaking in his KILLER voice and pointing and shooting everyone in the kitchen. My GOD I was MORTIFIED!! but now should I be questioning my self? Why would I just randomly TEACH him that? I wouldn’t!
Should I be thinking about him playing with his friends and being arrested in a traffic stop role play? Would he freak out? Play along? Ask what the fuck his friend is doing when someone attempts to pretend handcuff or shoot him? Should he know how to pretend DIE when shot at? I’m HORRIFIED at the thought of my child being aware of ANY OF THAT! Or what if all the other children all know and Ashton has to ask himself WHY he’s the only kid that has NO CLUE what the hell is going on? Am I setting him up for feeling inferior amongst his peers?
I’ve told him about dying and death as he has asked here and there and I guess I’ve been as honest as I know how to be…but natural death. And actually, I don’t fuckin’ know what happens when you die, so no, I didn’t move on from the initial inquisition and start listing off the ways people die, especially not at the hands of another human with this THING that shoots little THINGS out if it that penetrate your skin and you bleed out or you just instantly fall to the ground and your life is OVER? WHAT AM I SAYING?
AM I THE ONLY PERSON INTENSELY DISTURBED BY ANY OF THIS?? AM I NAÏVE?
BECAUSE I AM.
I. AM. MORTIFIED.
“…really REALLY bad people, honey,…”
He interjects my regretful and repetitive attempt at recovery with a question of hope.
“Oh, like people who speed?”
I go on to attempt to answer the rest of his questions including but not limited to laws and why we have them in relation to rules and why Mommy has them, that policemen are in charge of making sure that everyone follows those rules, and as a result of breaking those rules ADULTS ONLY get handcuffed and locked up in a room in a place for an amount of time directly related to their “breaking of the rules (so I wouldn’t have to define CRIME).”
As we turn down our street, the car is quiet. Ashton has GOT to be confused and tormented with inner turmoil. Did she just tell me that we tie people’s hands together and lock them up in a room all by themselves? People DO that to other people? I don’t understand this. That’s absurd. Completely wild and whacked and crazy…wait. What?!
I just made him cry. I ruined his image of man. Now we are violent toward one another and we lock each other up. That must be so scary to hear and weird and backwards and FUCKED UP. What now? Should I be saying something? How do I make it better I hate myself I hate myself…
And then it was as if one of my other personalities just couldn’t even STAND how friggin’ stupid I had been. I took a deep breath in as the reality of the simplicity formed in my find and I could feel my eyes widen with the epiphany as if I were looking directly at It and I couldn’t believe my eyes because I actually couldn’t believe what was behind them. I caught him off guard slightly as I abruptly scared him out of his confusion as I turned the car into our driveway.
“ASHTON! MOMMY JUST REALIZED WHAT I SHOULD HAVE SAID FROM THE VERY BEGINNING! Oh, honey, I am so sorry I upset you. It is just an idea that is very hard to explain, but I think I just thought of something that will help make it easier to understand.”
He just looked at me…doubt in his eyes.
“Getting arrested for breaking the rules and going to jail? Do you want to know what all of that REALLY is?”
As we pull into the garage, “What, Mama?”
I put the car in park, praying that this epiphany would pull me from the depths of defeat and make it easier and less harsh and less overwhelming and less soul crushing to my little boy.
I unbuckled my seatbelt and turned around to look at him. I reached back and I took his hand and while applying some ease and with a sense of petrified hopes for relief, I said,
“It’s a grown-up TIME OUT.”
He looked at me and I saw the faintest glimpse of a smile as he thought for a moment. He brightened exponentially as he mentally pieced the puzzle together, as it finally resembled a puzzle with a few missing pieces based solely on age as opposed to a scattered mass of “holy shit” all over the table and he looked back at me. His eyes said it all. And all that came from his mouth as he reassured me and connected to me with his mind was,
I turned back around, closed my eyes, let out a huge sigh of relief, turned the key in the ignition, shutting off the car, and held back tears at the fear of every scaring him in any of the ways that I just had in a five minute trip home from my best friends house.
And there is so much more…
…it sure is scary…