It was Christmas morning and I had a broken leg, according to the doctor. Oddly enough, my leg felt fine, and I’d originally come to the hospital complaining of a dinosaur bite to my arm, so the diagnosis felt somewhat off. But, I wasn’t one to question a medical professional, and particularly not my four-year-old daughter, so I went with it.
At the end of the treatment, she wrapped my leg in an invisible cast and told me that I’d feel better in about three or four hours. But, I wasn’t allowed to leave until I used my fake red debit card in the fake swipey-machine, which was conveniently included with the hospital playset that we’d gotten her for Christmas.
American healthcare rocks because my daughter’s hospital playset i put together includes a debit card and payment system pic.twitter.com/fyTpbDbgvB— Casey Taylor (@CTWritePretty) December 25, 2019
To her, the card-swipey thing is a nice addition to a toy where she can pretend to be a grown-up. Grown-ups pay for things, and she sees her mom and dad pay for things all the time, so it’s fun for her to insert the card and make noises like she hears at Target or the grocery store. To me, it was utterly dystopian. Only in a country where millions of GoFundMe fundraisers are for medical costs would it make sense to include a point-of-sale system with a doctor’s playset.
I laughed about it the night before when I was putting it together, and I laughed again when my daughter told me to pay for my broken leg. But, when she asked me what was so funny, I played it off. Her only concept of money at this point is that we buy stuff with it, so it would’ve taken a lot of explaining to get her to grasp that my leg would have cost me an arm and a leg, and why that’s so bleak.
Once your kids get old enough to understand how to ask questions, parenting becomes mostly about being as honest as you need to be. There is no nuance for a child early on, so I spend lots of my time treading lightly when it comes to my own politics, which are as far left as an adult with kids to feed can afford to be. It’s important to me that my daughter receive a semblance of my moral and ethical compass without making her too jaded, too early.
For example, I’m not sure if there’s a right time to bring up and teach the very necessary topic of slavery to your children. I do know that there is a wrong time, and that is Christmas morning when your four-year-old child is in the middle of opening presents. We bought her a set of children’s books about important women in history, such as Amelia Earhart, Sacagawea, and Harriet Tubman. Despite it being a set of kids books, there’s no way to “kid proof” the story of Harriet Tubman, so after successfully avoiding having to explain that health care shouldn’t be viewed as “a good and/or service” that exists in “the marketplace,” I found myself fielding questions from my daughter about one of the most depraved aspects of human history.
She asked if her friend Marlon, who lives on my parents’ block and has “darker skin than [her]”, would’ve been a slave. I told her that I wasn’t sure. She didn’t take it well, mostly gazing off into the distance, until she finally asked whether slavery had ended.Of course it had, I told her. How could we continue to let anything like that happen? There was a whole war fought over it, honey. Everything I told her was specifically designed to communicate that a) slavery was extremely bad, b) we are not the type of family that thinks any type of racial hatred is okay, and c) of course nothing like that is happening today.
When she’s older, she’ll be able to understand that that’s not exactly true. Slave labor is still utilized fairly regularly all over the world, even in the United States. Many inmates remain unpaid for their work, which makes them slaves, especially when they’re being sent to the Arkansas governor’s mansion to work as servants for the Clintons. But you can’t radicalize a kid before they even start school, an institution completely reliant on kids being scared enough of authority to sit still and listen. She needs to have some form of trust, even if it’s naive, that there’s a net under her in the form of people looking out for what’s best for society at large.
I grit my teeth every time her (and her little brother, who’s almost two now) point out their favorite ornament on the tree: Chase, the German Shepherd police dog from the show PAW Patrol. I can try to push them towards other characters, like Rubble, the construction bulldog who likes pizza and building things and, presumably, not throwing people in jail to please the state. But, if they want to like Chase, I can’t stop them without broaching subjects that they’re just not ready for. I could try to explain to them that if PAW Patrol was realistic, the talking dog policeman would be arresting people based on biased policing meant to fulfill arrest statistic quotas to satisfy Mayor Goodway’s donors, but I have doubts it would go well.
We’ll have those conversations, but I’d like them to be on my children’s terms. I can give nudges, and I can show them how to behave and treat people through my own example, and hopefully offer them a healthy sense of curiosity and skepticism without shattering their worldview. That way, years from now, the woman I said “yes” to when she was littler and wanted to feel better about slavery being over, or the police being good guys, will be adequately equipped to unlearn what I taught her. Or, at the very least, learn the nuance that makes it all so complicated.
Watching my children open their gifts, I was reminded of the toys I learned from when I was younger. Most of them were action figures allowing me to act out my love for the vigilante (Batman), or the soldier (G.I. Joe), or the mutated reptiles that liked pizza, all of which normalized violence in a way that I gradually unlearned as I grew older.
They also reminded me of the toy I never got: the Easy-Bake Oven. As a child, I’d always wanted one, mainly so that I could cook myself cupcakes and brownies on demand. The ’90s were a time for gendered toys, and besides Barbies, few toys were as gendered as the Easy Bake Oven, which featured pink and purple color schemes and had commercials like this. My parents never gave me one, though, and it wasn’t until about 10 years later that I rid myself of the idea that cooking was associated with femininity, and that that was somehow a negative thing. (Hasbro has caught up to the times, introducing gender-neutral Easy-Bake Ovens after a petition by a teenager in New Jersey.)
I don’t really fault my parents for not getting me the Easy-Bake Oven, though. They likely had no idea if they were doing the right thing, in the same way that I don’t now. They were just reading the room, and hoping that by doing so they could turn out a kid who got by long enough to learn for himself. The hope is that the world improves enough around them that, as long as you keep them skeptical, they’ll learn enough to teach you something once they finish flushing out all the dumb shit you filled their heads with so that they could survive to that point.
I’ll keep telling half-truths to my daughter for a little while longer. And, when she rings me up for my 12th broken leg of the day and says that it costs “a zillion dollars,” I’ll hope that when she’s my age the reason it’s funny is because the idea of someone having to pay for healthcare is ridiculous.