Yesterday, L turned thirteen.
As a result, I have been thinking about the world I lived in at that age. It was very different from the one in which he resides. The kiddo’s think of the 80’s and 90’s in the way I think of the 50’s and 60’s…a far-off time before I was born that doesn’t really exist in my consciousness. The time of my parents, not me.
And the world has changed.
L has his fathers’ mildly crude sense of humor, which is sometimes annoying and sometimes inappropriate, but usually has a way of making you laugh in spite of yourself. Anyway, he made a Hitler joke, and we both told him that one was a bridge too far, and he apologized. But it triggered a memory.
Me, thirteen years old, standing in front of my class and presenting my term paper. On Adolf Hitler.
To prepare us for our papers, the first we would ever write, our 8th grade teacher took us to the public library for a field trip. We had to find books on our research topic to take out for our papers. (First difference between me and kiddos: taking out physical books for research. Hell, USING physical books for research.) I asked teach if I could do mine on Anne Frank, because we were learning about the Holocaust and I had just read her book. She said no, because we would be reading it in class in the springtime. Dismayed, both because my topic had been shot down and because I would have to read the diary AGAIN, I asked what she thought I should write about. She told me to choose another person in that time period, if that’s what I was interested in.
So, I picked Hitler.
I checked out a couple of biographies, but they pretty much told me stuff I already knew and could find in my history book. I dug a little deeper, and in the left corner of the bottom shelf of a dark stack I found Mein Kampf. I don’t know if the library really red flags you when you take out certain books, but if so, I am in a database somewhere.
I went home and I read it. And it was drivel. Even my little self could tell that. I recall very little because many of the topics were over my head but it certainly seemed like the ravings of a madman to me. Still, I powered though, because we had been learning that autobiographies can yield more information than biographies, and I was always on the search for more information. My main question was why? Why did he do it?
I posed this question in my paper, and my answer that I came up with is of course my own hypothesis as a 13-year-old who had just read Mein Kampf: mommy and daddy didn’t let him go to art school. The lesson? Support your kids dreams or they will destroy the world.
I got an A.
Now, I don’t think a single one of my kiddos would ever be encouraged to write a paper about Hitler, and certainly not to read his book.
We know better now. So, we do better now.
For my first Halloween, my mother dressed me as a Mexican. For real. Pic below.
My kids can’t even dress up as Pocahontas or Mulan because it’s cultural appropriation. I don’t have a problem with this, because again, we know better…so we do better.
I posed the question to Twitter: What is something you did in your youth that youth today could never do? For me, it’s dress as a Mexican and have my teacher condone me reading Mein Kampf. I got some great responses though: playing with cap guns (got the Nerf now, and even that is controversial,) riding in the back of trucks or with no seatbelt on, jumping off bridges, etc. Lots of safety issues. So many responses on that actually, that I think I might write an entire other blog post about it…it’s been 24 hours and I’m still getting messages.
My point is that yes…we all did some crap in the past that we regret or look back on and cringe. But did you know better? Isn’t that cringy feeling a sign that you know you were wrong, and not just behaving however out of spite or malice? Isn’t it just ignorance? And, shouldn’t we forgive ourselves for not knowing what we didn’t know before we learned it? (Maya Angelou.)
If you know better…then do better. That’s all I’m saying.