We were sitting down to dinner the other night, and once again (like almost every other night), Alexander got a few bites from the end and declared himself done. As he always does, after he's eaten the bits he's liked and left most of the green stuff behind. Problem is, like every other night, I KNEW he would come to me half an hour later, begging for a bowl of cereal because he's starving and he'll just die of hunger if he doesn't get it.
And I found myself about to trot out the old line my (and I'm sure every parent of every one of us of the last 40 years) "There are children in the world who are literally dying because they don't have enough food, and you should appreciate what you have and eat what's on your plate". You remember that line, right? I had it served up to me from the age of about 6 or 7, in the years of the devestating Ethiopian famine.
We all heard it, right? Everytime you didn't finish your dinner (it wasn't just my family, I'm sure of it??). I was young, and not allowed to watch the news. So really, all I saw of it was glimpses of World Vision ads that left me shattered, but not a lot of detail about what was causing the issue. Just that millions of children were dying. I remember the ad that used to say "By the end of this ad, 3 children will have died.." or something to that effect. And I felt physically ill every time I heard it.
And I know it's on my mind a lot right now. The UN has declared famine again in the horn of Africa, with more than 12 and a half million people directly affected by the civil war and drought plaguing the area. It is said that more than 30% of children are acutely malnourished and that a million will die.
Late last week, this image, of 7 month old Kenyan boy Mihag Gedi Farah shocked the world. His mother had traveled for weeks to bring him to the Dadaab aid camp in Kenya, one of the largest (and desperately overstretched) in the world.
Mothers are leaving their children on the road to die, in vain hopes of saving others. Militia is stopping desperately needed food supplies from reaching aid camps, and aid agencies are being forced to pull back, or out, rather than do the invaluable task they came to do.
And I found myself asking how far to take it with Alexander. Now for those who don't know, he's, but compared to a lot of 8 year old boys, probably a young 8. He's got autism, though is high functioning. He's incredibly sensitive. Prone to nightmares and phobias, internalising things and dreaming about them, becoming very afraid of things that are highly unlikely to ever affect him (deathly afraid of tornadoes and volcanoes in our suburb for example). But he's a deep thinker, and gets as indignant as I do about injustice. He simply can't wrap his head around how people treat anyone else in anything other than with love or respect.
So of course, we're careful. Very careful. We avoid watching the news on television (don't get me started on the useless tripe that is commercial news in this country) and I get mine (I'm the wold's worst news junkie, I got it from my mother) almost exclusively online. I don't want him bombarded with images he's not yet able to handle.
But I'm a person who is deeply, passionately aware of what is going on in the world. It's a huge part of who I am (not a popular part, necessarily, but it's there, nonetheless). And as a mother, and a citizen of the world, I want very much to raise children who have a social conscience. Sons who grow up caring about more than what is in their back yard. Who grow up with a knowledge of how incredibly fortunate they are to have been born when they were, where they were. And that makes them entitled to nothing but hopefully gratitude.
Another example was just on Wednesday, on the way to my Retinal Specialist Appt. Alexander was talking about when Captain Cook 'discovered' Australia, and Australia Day being on January 26. And I found myself unable to let it just sit.
I thought it important that he know that in fact, long before Cook sailed these shores, people were already living here. And that British Settlement, (while fortunate for us), wasn't completely the wonderful thing he's been taught. That the British claimed land already owned by the Aboriginal community and that we (for want of a better term) proceeded to treat them appallingly and wipe many of them out. That the date of Australia 26, was to some Australians, not a happy day.
It led to an interesting back and forth about racism and some of our nation's less than proud history. And I was proud of his utter disbelief of how the colour of someone's skin could make anyone feel they had a right or superiority over them. In his opinion "But they were here first. And isn't there room for all of us?"
Obviously, I was careful in my choice of words. But I wanted him to understand that in a lot of lands, ours included, people are treated terribly for no reason other than their gender, the colour of their skin, or their religion. And that it's important that we fight these attitudes with our own tolerance and acceptance.
Now Alexander hasn't seen the photos coming out of Africa. He hasn't seen any of the posts on my blog or any of the videos on YouTube or television.
But my question is this. For those of you with school aged children, when do you start, and with how much information? When did you decide it was important for your children to be aware of the plight of others in the world? Or did you wait for them to bring it up themselves?
I want him to care. I want it to be important to him that life isn't the same for everyone else than it is for him. But of course, I want to be so careful about projecting my own issues onto him, turning him into a mini-crusader who loses the kind of sleep I lose over world issues. I know I have a tendancy to dwell to much. EVERYone who knows me tells me this when I start talking about it. I care too much, when there is so little I can do.
So what do you think? At what age did your children start watching the news with you? At what agedid they become aware of droughts and famines? Not the type we have here, but the types where millions and millions are dying? When did they become aware of racism and sexism, discrimination and violence?
How long do we shield them? Where do we draw the line between blissful ignorance and the beginnings of awareness of the world outside of their little box?