You scared me, baby. The other night, when we were talking. You were going to sleep and you started telling me things that were happening in camp. Things that parents hope and pray they will never, ever hear. Things that scared the hell out of me.
You can’t read this now, and you probably never will. You’re only in preschool, and the words I am penning are not about topics I can converse with you about. But I’d like to imagine that one day, I will be able to share with you what I am about to say, and hopefully you will take something from it and apply it to your life.
I want you to understand, my dear, just how powerful words can be. They have the ability to demolish a person’s life, whether there is truth to the statement you so nonchalantly asserted or whether it is an absolute fabrication. You will learn this as you get older, but even as adults, it is far more convenient to forget the impact our speech has on others and simply say whatever we want because, I don’t know… it’s fun to gossip… she had it coming to her… no one will know the difference if I embellish a little… why does she have to be so sensitive??
You didn’t mean to cause any drama when you told me what you did. I realize that. You aren’t even old enough to read, let alone to maliciously try and ruin someone’s reputation. But the world we live in is a terrifying place, and so when you tell me things about your teacher, things that she did in the bathroom, of all the goddamn places in the world, and which no adult should be doing in front of a child – I will automatically assume the very worst.
Children have an active imagination, I realize that. I also realize that you embellish many of your stories to catch my attention. But baby, there are some things that you simply are not allowed to fabricate. There are too many hair-raising, horrendous stories out there nowadays, that I can’t just chalk up the strange story you told me to another one of your dramatic demands for attention, even though it made no sense.
What can I tell you, my dear? How I was a nervous mess of a person for days on end? Whom didn’t I call? Where didn’t I turn to? You cannot imagine the profound effect your few simple words generated.
But I did my research. When such a disturbing scenario like the one you hinted at is presented to any parent, the natural reaction is to turn over any and all stones in search of truth and justice.
So I did just that. And what was discovered, after a harrowing few days and several sleepless nights, was that your teacher… was innocent. Utterly and completely.
To say I was relieved would be an understatement. The single most important thing to me on this planet is your safety, and a huge cloud of worry was lifted when I realized you had simply made up the whole thing.
But after the initial waves of extreme emotion passed and I had to face the camp administration that was in total shock in the face of my accusation, and the poor teacher whose world had been turned upside down – I started thinking. Thinking about how easy it is to ruin a person’s reputation, how very simple the process of destroying someone’s life can be. And how effortlessly the words flow out of our mouths – not just yours, baby, but each and every one of us.
Often, too often, we hear stories. Stories of precious children and malicious men – and some women – in positions of authority who steal their innocence and take their childhoods. We hear these stories and we rage – oh, how we rage – at the injustice, and at the perpetuators. And we vow to do whatever is in our power to protect our children and to keep them safe.
But here’s the thing about stories.
Some stories are real.
And some stories are not.
What happens when the monsters in the story aren’t really monsters? Can we truly prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that every single one of the horrific stories we hear – is true? Is that even possible?
What happens when someone hears a story, assumes the very worst, blows it up exponentially – and just runs with it?
Can we, as parents and as human beings, somehow – despite our most natural and beautiful protective instincts – find the ability to put emotions aside before hearing the complete story?
Sometimes, the smartest thing to do before accusing anyone of anything, is to simply take a breath, shut our mouths, and just LISTEN.
And that’s what you taught me, baby. You taught me the importance of judging favorably, and of not blindly believing every rumor that comes my way. You showed me the immense power of our speech, and how very true the expression is: Choose your words wisely.
So thank you. Thank you for this reminder, and thank you for making up a story so fantastically imaginative that I was forced to do my homework and not simply take it at face value.
I try to teach you, sweetheart. How to treat others, how to act, and how to speak. But sometimes, the one teaching me – is you.