Years ago when we bought our house, it happened to come with that mystique-laden entity known as the five-piece bath.
But before either my husband or I could figure out how that last piece – the bidet – did or did not fit in with our lifestyle, a progression of little beings arrived in our lives, each apparently intent on using it as a water play table and/or drinking fountain.
We eventually placed child safety handles onto each of the alluring taps, and thought that was the end of it.
But over time our poor water-deprived bidet found a new line of work. It was, after all, conveniently located for holding bathroom reading material. So when we ended up with a subscription to Maclean’s – I figured reading a Canadian news magazine would minimize the chance I would miss out on major world news during the fog of my baby-brain years – these too were added, weekly, to the collection.
Which is why, the other night, when I was supposed to be reading bedtime stories to our three children, we were instead deeply engaged in a discussion triggered by an article my 10-year-old son had been reading while using the bathroom.
His questions about Jack Layton led, naturally and by way of the children’s leading, through topics including Mr. Layton himself, types of cancer, cancer treatments, the psychological components of health and healing, the parliamentary system, the results of the last federal election, the roots of Quebec separatism, the concept of “loyal opposition,” Stornoway and other official residences, the court system, adversarial v. collaborative approaches to justice and lawmaking, and funerals.
Even then, my eight-year-old was a bit miffed that we ran out of time to talk about the election platforms of various political parties.
All that, from a few paragraphs plucked from our bidet.
This has been happening for years. Our kids didn't need to be able to read to learn from those magazines. The pictures were more than enough to generate questions and get conversations flowing. I even recall one of our children (although not exactly which one) running to me and pointing to a picture of a fire before even having the words to ask, “Mommy, what’s that about?”
Sometimes I have wondered if it is appropriate for young children to have access to a news magazine; our world can be a rather disturbing place. Occasionally, though rarely, I have chosen not to place a particular issue where it can be seen. Vivid images from violent war zones, overly sexualized images and a spread on airline crashes that came out days before we were due to fly come to mind.
Mostly, I have found that our children have gravitated toward pictures they are ready to discuss. Or, depending on their developmental stage, they may go months without bothering to notice anything at all.
When our children do notice words or images and want to talk about them, it’s an opportunity for us to tailor explanations to their level. To hand them as much of the world as they are ready to hold. We can provide a sense of context, help them to see the ebb and flow of human history and the complex web that lies under the surface of otherwise confusing and seemingly random events. We can answer their questions and assure them that although, at times, bad things happen, love, justice, order and beauty are still in plentiful and powerful supply.
These discussions also provide a forum for introducing the impact of our own choices and actions in the world – this is why we are choosing to share some of our money instead of spending it on ourselves, even though it would be yummy to eat out at that Malaysian place tonight. This is why we pay attention to where the products we buy were made, and how they were packaged. This is why we are going to learn to rinse the dishes without using a bathtub’s worth of water. This is why we are walking down to the polling station in the pouring rain so mommy can vote.
At times I have shed tears at having to explain one of the more horrendous plot lines from the world stage, or to admit that some form of systemic injustice has been allowed to flourish. Sometimes I have to remind myself of the tremendous luxury it is to decide how and how much of such things to share with my children.
I think often of the families for whom these stories are three-dimensional realities playing out in their backyards, and not two-dimensional images retrieved from their bidets. But mostly our discussions have been fascinating opportunities to share the world with my children, one question at a time.
As my kids get older, I am becoming more proactive in trying to keep them informed, in at least a basic way, of the broader world – whether or not they have come to ask. We have branched out, taking our news from a much wider range of sources, although I still screen any video footage. It will be a few years before we are ready to sit down together and watch live news, with its buffet of seemingly endless trauma and tragedy. I do not want to overwhelm or discourage them, but to inform and empower them as they are ready.
Which is why, until long-anticipated bathroom renovations come along, I will keep Maclean’s in my bidet.
Susan Horikiri lives in New Westminster, B.C.