Recently, my son selected Yes We Can for his nightly bedtime story. (The book is a photographic picture book that includes excerpts of President Obama’s victory speech given after his 2008 election).
My six-year-old son commented that one day, he’d like to be President too. But a minute later he changed his mind. When I asked him why the change of heart, he told me he wouldn’t want anyone to shoot him if they didn’t like his speech.
My son knows that both Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Lincoln were shot and killed because essentially someone didn’t like what those two men had to say. And now, when we read biographies and my son learns that someone has died (whether it’s George Washington or Claude Monet) he always asks how they died. I know he’s really asking if they were killed or died of natural causes.
It was a comment that left me speechless and searching for the best way to respond. Don’t forget, this was a bedtime story. I was trying to create a cozy atmosphere conducive to a good night’s sleep. I wasn’t looking to engage my son in a long discussion, but at the same time, I knew I couldn’t let my son’s comment go. I felt the need to acknowledge his fear.
I felt unprepared for dealing with such a serious topic, especially at bedtime. So I did what I usually do during challenging parenting moments — I made it up as I went along. I reminded my son that he can grow up to be anything he wants to be. I told him that the President of the United States always has special security guards, protecting him and his family. Back then, President Lincoln didn’t have those security guards. I told my son that those guards do their very best to keep the President safe at all times.
The conversation hasn’t come up again; although, since that reading we have read about other Presidents. But I can’t seem to get our discussion out of my head.
My son is just shy of his seventh birthday and is already feeling as if there are certain things he can’t do out of fear. And I wondered, how many people (children and adults) don’t do something, don’t take action, don’t speak up out of fear?
For my son, the conversation may already be forgotten. But mothers remember; we dwell and worry. For me, that one conversation was just a catalyst that has me looking ahead to the future.
How do I straddle that fine line of encouraging my son to go after his dreams (which sometimes include becoming a firefighter) with the maternal instinct to want to keep my child safe and out of harm’s way?