“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.