Remember the famous exchange in “A Few Good Men”?
Jack Nicholson: “You want answers?”
Tom Cruise: “I think I’m entitled to them.”
JN: “You want answers?”
TC: “I want the truth!”
JN: “You can’t handle the truth!”
I’ve been reading a fantastic book lately about World War II, Winter of the World, and my seven year old daughter, Claire, created a nightly ritual to ask me what is happening in my book during our bedtime routine. “Daddy, tell me what is happening in your book?”
My answers have varied…”Daisy moved to London and into a big house”, “Carla met a boy named Werner and they danced to music in Germany”. I’ve typically kept the subject matter of my nightly updates light and cheery.
The other night Claire asked about a certain character that I had mentioned a few nights prior. “Well, remember I told you that there was a war going on between countries? Joanne died in the war, sweetie.”
Claire stared at me and a moment later, a lone tear worked its way down her cheek. She looked up at me with her big brown puppy dog eyes and said, “Daddy, I don’t want to hear about your book anymore.” I assured her that I would keep the details of the book to myself. Then I laid down next to her in bed for a few minutes, until she wanted to listen to music on her clock radio to help her fall asleep.
I sometimes forget that a seven year old girl still lives a world of ponies, princesses and sugary treats after dinner. Yet she catches tidbits of the morning (not so positive) news on the TV. She can read newspaper and magazine headlines and will ask questions about them. She comes home from school and lectures me about fire safety and how I don’t have rope ladders in her and Grady’s bedroom. Or I will overhear her explaining to Grady how they can never get into a car with a stranger. How much does a 7 year old need to know about the real world? Or put another way, how long can I (or should I) shield her from some of the realities of life?