“Mommy,” Benjamin said to me, “I want you to come to my class and read Mickey and the Night Kitchen.”  Except that when my middle child gets an idea in his head, he often gets carried away and forgets about breathing, so what he said sounded more like, “Mommyiwantyoutocometomyclassandreadmickeyandthenightkitchen.”  My husband has been doing Benjamin’s bedtime reading lately, as I am being held prisoner in Zachary’s room by the never-ending Little House series.  One of Ben’s big favorites these days is Maurice Sendak’s In the Night Kitchen.  J reads it to the child every night – sometimes several times through.  I’ve not read it in over a year, although one of my favorite bakeries is named for it.

“That sounds great,” I replied.  “I’ll arrange it with your teachers.”

We set it up for today, so last night I pulled Sendak’s book from the shelf to skim it through once before putting it in Benjamin’s bag.  Two minutes later, I was standing in front of my husband.  “I can’t read this to a class of three-year-olds.”

“Why not?” J asked.  “Because it mentions God?”  We’re non-believers around here, and we are pretty sensitive to people indoctrinating our kids.

“No,” I answered.  “Because the kid is naked in at least half of the pictures.  And his penis is very clear.”

“Oh.  I guess that’s true.”  Yeah.  You think?

So, this morning, I informed Ben that I could not do In the Night Kitchen in his class.  “Why not?” he asked.

“Because it’s not appropriate for school,” I answered, hoping and then hoping again that he would not ask me why.  “Can you pick another book?”

Power Rangers,” he promptly said.  His grandmother had bought him a few books over the weekend – all featuring giant weapons and gratuitous violence – and he was completely smitten.  While I’m not happy about the books, I understand that for some reason violence fascinates this kid, and he needs safe outlets for that interest.

“Honey, that’s not appropriate for school, either.”

Star Wars,” he suggested, while I wondered how we suddenly owned only wildly inappropriate children’s literature.

“Look, books with guns and shooting are not appropriate for school.  Go to the bookshelf and look for something else.”  I turned to pack his brother’s lunch, and two minutes later he returned, holding one of my favorite children’s books – And Tango Makes Three.

Which is about a couple of gay penguins adopting an egg.

Now, we live in a pretty conservative area, and I imagine that not every family is comfortable with homosexuality.  My first response to that would be to read the book to the class anyway, because – dammit – censoring homosexual love is just wrong.  If parents have a problem with it, well, that’s because they are homophobes.

But, then I thought about it and tried reversing the situation.  You see, I’d be apoplectic if someone came in and read a book all about God to my kid’s preschool class. I don’t believe in God, and I don’t appreciate people indoctrinating my kids. While I have to answer questions about God from my kindergartener, I don’t want to deal with it yet with the preschooler.  He’s not ready for that type of conversation about respecting other people’s beliefs.

I imagine that some people feel the same way about having to explain coupling, reproduction, and hetero/homosexuality to their preschoolers.  Not everyone is ready to have that conversation yet, and ramming it down their throats will get all of us nowhere.

“How about The Night Pirates?” I asked him.  Since the point was really just having me read to the class, Benjamin was fine with that.  He’d probably have been happy if I had read the back of a shampoo bottle, as long as I was there in his classroom.

This afternoon, after school, we cuddled on the couch and read together.  He picked up a book.  “Is this appropriate for home?” he asked.

“Yes, baby, it’s appropriate for home.”  Of course, in our house, that covers pretty much everything.

Except the Bible.

29 responses to “Beholder

  1. I think there is a difference between presenting an issue of faith or belief and a factual phenomenon. I live in a community where many families have same-sex parents, and I have a friend who is transgendered. When I think about such a story being censored, I think about them being censored.

  2. I tend to agree, but…

    There are many who believe God is a fact. And to explain a book like that, you have to explain about coupling, which not every parent is ready to do.

  3. Well, now I have some book shopping to do. Starting with the penguins.

  4. You can’t go wrong with the penguins. It is a great book, and my kids love it, even though I am not all that impressed with the illustrations. My kids are all suckers for a love story…

  5. I can see the awkwardness of the penguin book (though my daughter’s preschool class had a kid with two mommies) – but I wouldn’t have thought twice about the Sendak.

    I read The Only Boy in Ballet Class to her first grade class, just a couple of weeks ago. I also read it to her kindergarten class. And I told the first grade teacher that I was proselytizing. But I don’t think it’s a bad thing, in that case.

    Slippery slope though, when you start poking it with a stick.

  6. If you can’t even muster up enough acceptance and compassion for a couple of cartoon penguins, then I think that this comment is going to fall on deaf ears, but I’m going to try anyway.

    People who have relationships outside the societally-accepted norm are not dangerous sexual predators. It’s easy to put your focus on their sexual habits since that is an area that they clearly diverge from standard practices, but really, that’s not the most important thing about them. Kids don’t care who reproduces how, they care about who gives them a bandaid when they scrape their knee.

    The GLBT families I know are perfectly loving and nurturing and wonderful. The hardship for these kids doesn’t come from anyone in their families, it comes from people telling them that their families are wrong and bad. Talking about anyone’s children and families like the living embodiment of moral turpitude is hurtful in ways you can’t begin to imagine.

  7. love in the night kitchen!

    i’m pretty sure that if your kids brought a bible home you’d let them read it. and you’d talk to them about it, and what you personally do and don’t believe.

    and that’s cool.

  8. (clearly “m.” has not been around your blog EVER or he would know you have absolutely no issues with GLBT families. heck, if he had read your POST he should have been able to figure it that out.)

  9. I’m not saying that the original poster has a problem with GLBT families. I’m more in line with Deb’s comment – God may or may not exist as a concrete fact but GLBT families definitely do.

  10. This is all sorts of awesome… I actually read today in my kid’s class (1st grade).

    Ditto with you on much above.

  11. Having just read the synopsis on Amazon, I don’t see how this would require a discussion of coupling any more than a story about heterosexual adoption would.

  12. It required me to when I explained it a few years ago. I’m not saying I agree that it is inappropriate for kids that age, but I am saying that “progressive” people need to try putting themselves in the shoes of other people now and then. I imagine there are plenty of people who have NO idea why I’d be so bothered by a book about God…

  13. Yeah… I just don’t understand where (figuratively and literally) acknowledging this would be optional and not a fact of every day life.

  14. Exactly, Deb. Not everyone wants their kids learning the facts of life in preschool. Some people want to handle that at home. Just like I would prefer to handle the fact that some people believe in God at home, not in preschool. And I am pissed that I am forced to handle that fact of religious diversity on someone else’s terms when it is discussed at school.

  15. When my children went to preschool, they were with children who had same sex parents. (Still the case in Hebrew school.) It wasn’t an abstract concept. That there are communities in the 21st century that can still treat it as such is chilling.

    I wasn’t happy when my children were inundated with all kinds of Christian imagery at school, or when staff members spoke lovingly about Jesus to my impressionable children. But that’s still in the territory of belief, despite what the most devout will say. Discussing faith just isn’t the same as discussing the existence of LGBTQ families.

  16. Deb, I agree and would prefer to have read the book. But I think that it is important to sometimes think about the way the opposite side sees something. In this case, I’m guessing that there are a lot of people who would see me reading this book the same way I see people talking about God and Santa with my kids.

    And, talking about LGBT families is the same to them that talking about religious families is to me. I’d rather wait till my kids are a bit older to have to explain that some people believe in God, just the way others may want to wait till their kids are older to explain that it takes a male and a female to produce a child.

    This book leads to the question, “Why can’t two men make a baby?” which I am fine with answering. However, not everyone is down with that.

    I tend to see things in black and white. In this case, I tried hard to understand someone else’s view. The more we all do that, the closer we can get to truly co-existing.

  17. Talking about LGBTQ families is NOT the same as talking about religious families. Who composes one family is a different kettle of fish than what a family believes in.

    It’s the same because it’s just as offensive? Yuck. I get someone being offended by beliefs about God being assumed or indoctrinated, but someone being offended by the existence of another kind of family is small and intolerant. It sounds like such people could coexist with other people who are “okay” with those arrangements. Could they coexist with people who live in those arrangements?

    You’re under no obligation to discuss the mechanics of sex or LGBTQ families with three year olds if you don’t want to, but they’re not the same as religion.

  18. Emily –
    I believe in God & in homosexual marriage. No matter what, there are things I prefer to teach myself. Sexuality & Spirituality are at the top of my list. Also I prefer to be in charge when my kids learn about money & consumerism too. I have less of any uphill battle at school on some topics than others, this is based on where I live (super crunchy town) but everyone has their own areas in which the school message will differ widely from the home message. Emily, I see what you were trying to do is be as compassionate as possible towards other families. Compassion is a rare and wonderful quality, especially when we are talking about hot topics like God & Sex. Most people are just looking to push their agenda and insisting on their right to do so. To step back – even knowing you had the right to read the book – and consider its impact on other families is an act of compassion. Compassion must lead the way towards peace, it breaks down walls. You could have read the book – but then you’d forever carry that label – not a bad one per se – but if it creates a barrier from other families knowing you more, than it creates a barrier from people knowing you more, understanding your values & seeing those values mirrored in their own life.
    Some people are just haters, but not everyone. Some people may change their minds about gay marriage with time. I’ve seen it happen. We get so encamped in our view, movement seems impossible – but it is not.

  19. I have to agree with Emily and applaud her empathy. I’ve been posting on gay marriage for the past two days and am definitely a crusader, but part of that crusade is the effort to extend understanding to EVERYONE.

  20. Gay penguins adopting an egg? Dude, I need to find that book. Ha.

    It’s probably a good thing that you looked at the first book before leaving the house. I’m all for teaching tolerance and kids learning about different things…however you are talking about a class of preschoolers.

  21. I don’t think this is a question of God being an abstract concept vs. GLBT families not being so, the crux of the situation is that some families want certain discussions to take place in the home rather than at school…and that’s okay.

  22. Haha. 🙂 Hope the reading was fun!

  23. I was about to add a comment saying… essentially the same thing as Karen. But she said it so much more eloquently than I would have. Opening up someone’s mind to something they’re afraid of is all about babysteps and earning their respect. Reading the book — as wonderful as its message is — really could have shut down Emily’s (and Ben’s) relationships with his classmates’ parents before they’ve gotten a chance to know her. Better to be sneakier about getting them to come around!

  24. I live in a country where gay marriage is legally recognized, but there is still a significant part of the population who would probably prefer that not to be the case. I also teach 3 year olds, and I am trying to imagine what the reaction might be to a book like the one you describe. I’m thinking that, while of course a lot depends on the particular group of students involved (and their families), I suspect that it wouldn’t be as big a deal as it might potentially be in the States. Again, depending on the particulars of those involved…

    What really spurred me to comment, though was your thoughts about ITNK. We have this book now, and I know I read it (or had it read to me) as a child, though seeing it again as an adult I was surprised about the visible penis. But here that would be a total non-issue in school.

    Learning about the physical differences between boys and girls is a typical part of the preschool curriculum, coming under the heading of awareness of one’s own body, personal autonomy, hygiene, etc. (Besides, 3 year olds see each others’ genitals all the time while using the bathroom…) They learn the proper terms (penis/vulva) and see drawings of unclothed children (fairly stylized, not super-realistic) and get to circle the one that represents their own sex (or maybe they get to dress the children with cutout clothes, etc.)

  25. I didn’t realize that picking a book for preschool might be so hard, but yet I see where you are coming from and it is a hard line to walk, being true to your beliefs and being sensitive to others. And I would have voted no on all the character/movie books too. Some of those drive me up a wall, yet we have them.

  26. Last time I read at school we read “I will never not ever eat a tomato”. The selection process was similarly exhaustive though, minus the violence since all our books are pink.

  27. I hate it when things are complicated.

  28. Oh, the headache of THAT negotiation. I hope there is lots of home-reading of Tango to assuage it in the near future.

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