What we tell them and when

Friday night Mark and I took our ten-year-old goddaughter to her first jazz concert, a real grown-up concert in the atrium at Orchestra Hall, not a kids’ concert, tailored to her interest in drums. It was a smashing success and I have been telling people the joyful parts of being able to share this with her, how captivated she was, how the other concertgoers were delighted by her.

There’s another tiny piece I haven’t mentioned, but it’s the week it is, the year it is, the world it is.

When I went out to the bathroom at intermission, Orchestra Hall had the pre-ordered drinks sitting on a table completely unattended. No staff near the table, no staff even visible. People’s names were under the drinks, patrons were milling around. I was appalled. And when I went back in, I mentioned this as a terrible idea, and I said to Lillian, “Sweetie, don’t ever, ever, ever take a drink that’s been left unattended. You always, always, always watch who has had control of your drink.” And she nodded solemnly and said, “Yes.”

She is 10.

I did not say “rape” or “rohypnol” or “GHB.” At her age, she probably honestly filed it away as “someone could spit in that, gross.” But…she is 10. She will be in high school before we know it. And you have to grab the moments you can. You have to take the opportunities. If you sit a kid down for a lecture, here is all the stuff you need to know, some of it will fly past, some of it will not go in. And you will forget to say some of it. If they only hear stuff once, some important stuff will be lost.

I was not that much older than she is when my cousin told me the same thing, always know who has had your drink, do not drink an unknown punch at a party, even if they tell you it’s non-alcoholic, maybe especially if they tell you it’s non-alcoholic. Watch them make your drink, keep your drink with you, do not leave it on the table if you go to the bathroom, finish your soda, get a new one after.

She is 10.

She is 10, and I hope no one has said Harvey Weinstein’s name to her. She watches Big Bang Theory, and I wish she didn’t, because it’s full of toxic bullshit, and because Mayim Bialik is trying to tell her that if only she’s good enough, if only she dresses the right way and wants to be a good smart girl it will be enough. It will not be enough. This thing I am telling her, at 10, about control of her drink, about how to hold her hand when she punches, about kicking for joints and soft places on the body and running like hell, about how she is worth it and never think she is not worth hitting as hard as she can, as hard as she has to: it will not be enough. I cannot promise that it will be. It is what I have. I can give her that my friends think it’s amazing that she loves the drums, my friends want to introduce her to the lead percussionist and help her see all the cool percussion instruments. I can give her grown-ups who see a tiny pixie child intent on listening to jazz and want to give her more of the world, not less. Who say, when you go out in the world, this is what you do–not, don’t go out in the world.

She is 10, and I told her, never take a drink that’s been left unattended.

It will only get more like this, in the years ahead. As the adults, we always want to think it’s too early to have to say the words, and by the time we’re comfortable, it’s too late, they needed to hear them already. We want to protect them from the words, and we can’t protect them from the world. So the opportunities come in the strangest places. It’s fun when it’s “do you know what Cubism means?” This one was not a fun one. But you take the moments you get. She didn’t have to dwell on it, she nodded and went on with her evening, which she declared to be joyful hours. It’s still lodged in my heart, though. She’s 10, she’s 10, she’s 10. I want that to be a magic incantation, but it isn’t.

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