I am uncertain of my relationship with the notion of “childhood”. There seems to be this pervasive contemporary cultural sense that children should be protected and sheltered from all sorts of things, and that childhood is a time of magical, blissful ignorance. And while it’s certainly too true that there are American children (and others, too) who face too much too soon – hunger, poverty, abuse, homelessness, disease, etc – there are plenty who are indulged and coddled and sheltered from the burden of Responsibility for far too long. I have no problem with kids believing in the Tooth Fairy, or any faerie for that matter; I have huge problems with behaviors that are brushed off as “that’s just how kids are” by so-called Responsible Adults.
We have generally had a habit of taking Caitlyn with us where ever we go, even when she was much younger. The idea has been that kids should be part of community and society and not exiled to some special area where they are insulated from everything. If you want a child that can not be a terror in a restaurant, then you have to teach restaurant behavior. Yes, it’s challenging; yes, it’s easier to say “oh, he’s only three” when your kid wants to paint the table with the ketchup or experiment with different pitched screams. But then you have a kid who doesn’t know where the boundaries of polite behavior are and you’re that parent that has no authority. What are you going to do when you need that authority when he’s twelve?
We take Caitlyn with us to restaurants that are not kid-themed and require that she stay in her seat. She’s been a regular attendee at office parties since she could walk, including those at a favorite pub and the big holiday gatherings. By taking her along and sticking to our expectations of good behavior, we now have a kindergartner we can take almost anywhere.
To test this theory, the three of us attended Caitlyn’s first live concert last night. A friend of ours plays second violin in the Lake Union Civic Orchestra, and they opened their 2010-2011 concert season with a Beethoven/Shostakovich combination. Caitlyn did very well, I think, even if she found it hard to stay still through the second symphony and spent much of it with her ears covered (it has some very loud parts).
She said today that she liked the violins and the cellos, which we had a good view of. The conductor’s coat tails flapped in fun ways and she liked how he waved his baton. Afterward, Caitlyn had good questions for Mel about how to understand what the conductor meant. During the bit before when everyone warms up and tunes, the tuba player did some of that off stage, down in the seating area, which meant we got a good look at his tuba and got to experience some fun acoustics that made it sound like he was behind us although he was clearly in front of us (curved ceiling).
Could we have waited to take her to a symphonic concert? Sure. This time, though, she had a friend up there on stage to make the experience more accessible. Someone she could watch and ask questions of afterward. And maybe, just maybe, I have successfully shared my fondness for Beethoven’s symphonies with my daughter in ways besides “Beethoven’s Wig“.