Wednesday, March 28, 2007

On protecting innocence

I sing Z. three songs to help her sleep--the special slow version of the ABC song, Goodnight Irene, and Down in the Valley.

Goodnight Irene is not exactly child-friendly, so I've changed some of the lyrics and omitted the obsessive pedophile verse. Z. loves this song and asks for it more often than the other two, and I made the mistake of pointing the song out when it was playing on the Folkways cd in the car the other day. Of course that version is for grownups and completely unbowdlerized: "Sometimes I have a good notion/to jump in the river and drown;" "I asked your mother for you/She told me that you were too young/I wish to god I never seen your face/I'm sorry you ever was born." They skipped the verse that ends "I'll take morphine and die," but otherwise it was pretty much not-okay for toddlers straight down the line. And you guessed it, today when I asked her what music she wanted, Z. asked to hear that version again. I think I'll have to "lose" the cd when Z.'s around--a straightforward and easy solution.

What is more complicated is knowing that at some point I will have to tell Z. that Helen Hill died. When I was really wiped out by Helen's murder, the first month or so after I heard, we told Z. I was sad because my friend got hurt. It's not that she doesn't know about death--when Diva Dog died last summer she learned about death close-up, at least on her then-18-month-old level--but the death of someone she's never met is beyond what she can understand. I also don't see a need for her to learn that parents die, not at her age. I wish intensely that Helen's son were still protected from this knowledge. (Even though his name is out there, I feel uncomfortable naming him here so I will call him Charming Boy.)

I've been sending care packages to Paul and Charming Boy. Z. has been involved in putting these packages together and even made a couple of things to send. She's also very interested in the packages, in how they get from the post office to Charming Boy, and she likes to look at the postcard of him that Paul sent us as a thank-you note. It's the two-year-old version of having a pen pal.

Yesterday a friend sent videos of Charming Boy from a recent visit, and forgive me Helen, forgive me Paul, I was relieved to have pictures of him to show Z. that would show him with just his papa. There are wonderful pictures of Charming Boy with Helen on the memorial site that Cristin put together, but I haven't wanted Z. to see them. Their beauty is in how Helen glows with her love for this little person who made her a mama--that's why I love seeing them, and why they're heartbreaking, and why I'm not comfortable with Z. taking them in. She will ask about Charming Boy's mama sooner or later: I hope it's later. I don't want to explain that parents die--sometimes much too soon--until she has the wherewithal to understand death without nightmares, though maybe that point never comes. I hate the violence of the culture I have to raise her in. I want to be a barrier for her for as long as I can. And I can't stand that Helen can no longer do that for her son, that Paul is left alone to reconstruct what protection is possible. It makes me weep.


Phantom Scribbler said...

Do we have the wherewithal to understand death without nightmares? I had them for weeks after Helen's murder.

We had too many opportunities to talk about death with LG when he was a little older than Z. is now, and I'd have to say (from that experience) that the information that parents can die should be parceled out on a strictly need-to-know basis. That's part of why my heart breaks for Paul and Charming Boy.

anna said...

I, too, made some strategic changes to songs I sang my boys - took out "she died of a fever, and nothing could save her" from my mother's old stand-by Molly Malone.

So sad about your friend Helen. So sad.

S. said...

Phantom, I'm sorry LG had to learn when he was so little. It sounds like a very hard time.

Anna, thank you for your sympathy. I gather your mother didn't change the lyrics?