Sunday, November 20, 2011

Quotable: Boundaries

"I'm always asking myself if a near-accident is an accident, if standing right next to a disaster makes you part of the disaster or just a neighbor."

- Sherman Alexie, in The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven.

I didn't enjoy this book as much as I enjoyed his novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, but if I'm honest, that is probably because this one forced me to confront more uncomfortable truths.

If you've never read either, pick one and read it as an act of appeasement for the lies we tell our kids about Thanksgiving. (Pumpkin is old enough now that her day care class talked about Pilgrims. I found myself struggling to explain the Pilgrims, the first Thanksgiving, and what came after in a way that would be both accurate and accessible to a 4.5 year old. I am pretty sure that I failed miserably at it. Luckily, I can try again next year....)

Regardless, they are both good books. You won't be sorry you read them!


  1. and I quote "look fMhson everyone tries really hard to keep this from kids, but the white people killed the Indians to get their land." Seriously what else is there to do? and it didn't start much after that first Thanksgiving

  2. Yeah, fMhson is right. But how young was he when he learned that? We haven't really told my daughter yet that sometimes people kill other people. She's only 4! I know I can't shelter her from this ugly fact of life forever, but somehow this year felt to soon to go there. Maybe I should have, though. I just don't know.

  3. Anonymous4:28 PM

    My son (almost 5) is doing a Thanksgiving play that I don't think has been updated in 30 possibly 40 years. I suspect there will be whooping involved.

    We have discussed that the Pilgrims did a lot of Indian killing and that was wrong of them. We got a lot of whys, but he doesn't actually seem too upset by it. I think he's still a bit unclear on the concept of death (outside of video games and Heroica). But he gets that the pilgrims stole land from the Native Americans and they shouldn't have. (I have not pointed out that his line in the play, "I will help you hunt the wild turkeys" should really be, "I will help you plant corn with fish"... I think I picked that up in my own Kindergarten.)

    DH's grandmother is Cherokee, so I feel extra special concerned about the play... This part of the country is very much the antithesis of PC. I'm a little embarrassed also because DC's newest classmate's parents moved here from a reservation in Arizona where they were doing medical work for the tribe there.

  4. "Diary of a Part-Time Indian" is on my list thanks to your prior review.

    Amen @feMOMhist. Like @nicoleandmaggie's DC, my oldest is still not 100% clear on the meaning of "death" - I agree "The white people killed the Indians to get their land" is the place to start the conversation.

  5. I'll share my tip for the horrible world & horrible history conversations at our house, on the off chance it might be useful to anyone else.

    Terry Pratchett (a favorite author) in one of his books has a character who, in talking about sin, says that the only sin is treating people like things, including yourself. The churchman she's speaking with says in response, (& here I've just looked it up): "It's a lot more complicated than that--"

    "No it ain't. When people say things are a lot more complicated than that, they means they're getting worried that they won't like the truth. People as things, that's where it starts."

    "Oh, I'm sure there are worse crimes-"

    "But they Starts with thinking about people as things…"

    So, when we started talking about Martin Luther King Jr day when my son was 4, & when we talk about the slaves in Egypt both at Passover & when we talk about his history obsession with Egypt, & when we talk about the Civil War & when we talk about WWII (the talk about which looms ever closer this year), this is where I start: in these cases in history, people with power treated other people like things, not like real people. And, this past year, we've also been talking about how it's not just something that happens in history, but it happens now, too, & we try every day to, again quoting Mr. Pratchett, carry light into the darkness & treat everyone we meet & hear about & think about as real people & not as things.

    I don't know if that makes much sense--we're a strange hybrid over here sometimes. My husband thinks I'm a little wacky about this, but to my mind, it's a great explanation of morality. Plus, it fits with hedra's (from askmoxie's comment boards) behaviour rule-of-thumb that I totally rely on: Safe, Respectful, Kind. (Good rule of thumb for me to check my behaviour to them & for me to explain why tI'm asking them for certain behaviours, too.)

    Timely salutations to you all for a happy week ahead.

  6. This year I think "thanksgiving" falls under the easter bunny and santa clause umbrella for not quite telling the truth but getting to the essence of it's a time to be thankful, which is really what most holidays outside of halloween are for me. I don't talk about a virgin birth at Christmas, crucifixion and resurrection at Easter or a native population being slaughtered at Thanksgiving. Next year possibly but not this year at all. Just a folk tale of strangers in a strange land sharing a meal.

  7. @eta, I like this!

    @mom2boy, I'm kind of with you - I think I'm planning to make the holidays about *our* traditions and ignore history and religion. Once BabyT is old enough to hear about the Pilgrim/Indian lies at school, then we'll address it. So I figure we have at least 4 more years, fingers crossed.


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