(For reading in Chinese, please scroll down to the end of the English text.)
(For international readers, allow me to explain: I am an American but I have lived in China since 2004. My city of Chongqing, often abbreviated as CQ, is pronounced Chong Ching to rhyme with Wrong Ring. CQ is a megacity of 30 million people in south-central China, on the Yangtze River near the Three Gorges Dam.)
My son, age seven, is curious about his American family. It is natural, I suppose, since he met them only once. He was two years old when we visited my hometown in America so he has few memories of that trip. These days, in place of his own experiences, I love to regale him with stories – mostly true (not completely fiction) and mostly true (not too exaggerated) – of life when I was a youth in Rolla, Missouri.
Numerous times, I have told CS about how, many years ago, Grandpa (his great-grandfather) bought a retired city bus and towed it to his farm. He settled that old bus on the bank of the Little Dry Fork Creek. Grandpa took out the bus seats, then converted the bus to a permanent fishing cabin by putting it on a foundation of railroad ties and concrete blocks. Next, he filled the now-empty bus with a few cots, a rickety table and mismatched folding chairs, and other essentials for primitive but adequate amenities. Finally, Grandpa installed a stove, refrigerator, and lanterns, all run from the big LP (liquid propane) gas tank squatting next to the bus. There was no electricity and no telephone. (This was long before the cell phone was invented.) Thus, splendid isolation was assured.
Grandpa’s bus (as we always called it), sitting there on the creek bank, was rustic and simple and welcoming to a weary soul needing a respite from modern life. It became a refuge from the outside world which my family used for many years. The bus had all the features we needed – but without the complications of depending on too many devices or machines. To borrow a phrase from Gordon MacQuarrie, “When you go to the bush, you go there to smooth it, and not to rough it.”
Grandpa’s chosen location for the old bus was far from his closest neighbor and so far from the nearest highway that even big truck sounds were rare. All he had for background noise was the wind blowing through the trees, birds singing, squirrels leaping from branch to branch, and the occasional kersplash of a big flathead catfish or largemouth bass fetching their dinner from among the smaller residents of the Little Dry Fork. Especially late at night, that watery explosion in the darkness is surely one of the most exciting sounds known to man.
These days in CQ, when I wake young Chester to get him ready for the rigors of the first-grade classroom, I often let him wake up slowly while I talk to him. I let him use his imagination to see himself on the banks of the Little Dry Fork, enjoying a simple country life. He knows all about Grandpa’s bus on the creek; he’s heard these stories all his life.
“If we were on the Little Dry Fork this morning, you would hurry to get dressed and go down to Grandpa’s jon boat. It’s only twenty-five feet from the front door of the bus to the creek – but watch yourself going down that steep bank. We will take his little boat to see if we caught any fish on the branch lines overnight. I will sit in the front and take care of the fish; you sit in the back and run the electric trolling motor.” Such a vision is guaranteed to make my son smile.
To generate a really big smile, I might add, “Bring the .22 pistol in case we see any snakes. You carry it… but be careful.” At seven, my son is going through a phase where he is fascinated with guns. His favorite television programs are the ones featuring policemen or soldiers or superheroes with their superweapons. If I tell him I have selected a movie for us to watch together, his first question is, “Does it have guns?” So, imagining he has a pistol to carry in the boat is certain to get him awake and cheerful. However, I also remind him that, if he accidentally shoots a hole in the bottom of the boat, he’ll have to frog it to shore, because he just sank Grandpa’s boat. He always laughs but he is learning gun safety early.
After reading this far, you may be asking if there is a point to this rambling drivel. Yes, there is. When I wake CS with tales of Life on the Little Dry Fork, I give him the Disney version, the stories filled with only good things and nice people. I talk about fish loyally biting, soothing peace and quiet, and listening to the frogs croaking in the darkness. I never mention the ticks and chiggers – tiny insects that live in the weeds and which drive us crazy with itching when they bite. I don’t tell CS about the mosquitoes which can be a terrible nuisance in the summer, especially if it has been a wet year. I don’t tell him about any discomforts or inconveniences or lack of modern amenities. I tell him only the good stuff.
And, that’s my point in this article: Should I tell CS about the ticks and chiggers of Life on the Little Dry Fork? Should I mention the snakes which, while rare, were always a possibility? (I have never told him about the morning when a water moccasin – a poisonous snake – dropped into the boat from the tree where he was coiled up, sleeping, until I disturbed him while checking the branch line under him. I don’t tell CS about that incident… but you can be damn sure I will never forget it.) But that’s my point: Should I tell my son about the rough edges of that fairytale life?
Furthermore, should I tell him, at the tender age of seven, about the ticks and chiggers of Life in the Big City, and about the modern equivalents to mosquitoes and snakes in this pandemic era? How much should I warn him about the dangers and dangerous people in the world today? Since he was old enough to walk, I have drilled him on Rule Number One: Before you step into the street, you Look Left, Look Right, for any cars that might hit you – and you do this before you step into the street. And you do it every time! But what about some of the other urban ticks and chiggers?
Our job as parents is to nurture and protect our children. While they are youngsters, that means to shield them from the less savory aspects of life; parents want to let them enjoy their innocence while they are kids. But, at some point, parental protection is not beneficial; it can become counterproductive. As kids get older, we must begin preparing them for coping in the world… without loving parents to act as a buffer against the unpleasantness awaiting them.
So, how do modern parents strike that balance between protecting their children and preparing them for living in the big and sometimes unfriendly world? How do I teach CS to be cautious about trusting people without teaching him to be suspicious and cynical about all people? Seeing all relationships as adversarial, and all strangers as enemies, is not how I want my son to live as an adult.
In this era of the monstrous but invisible Covid-19 virus, how do I teach my son to be diligent about hygiene and social distancing without crossing the line and making him paranoid – fearing everything and everyone? (One good thing must be said about such paranoia: You may not always be right, but you are never wrong – and being wrong can be fatal with this killer microbe.) However, paranoia is not fun and it is not going to contribute to your quality of life.
And while we are pondering imponderables, what will be the long-term effects of this pandemic experience on our young children who are only now becoming aware of the larger world outside of their homes and neighborhoods and elementary school classrooms?, What impressions will they carry into their adult years as a result of this experience when they are so young and malleable? As adults, what personality traits will manifest themselves because of the current period of fear and powerlessness?
Now, can you see why I worry about my son every day? I want him to survive this pandemic period to become a positive, cheerful, confident adult… but, first, he has to survive. There has to be a balance between insulation from the outside world, and training to survive and thrive in it. My decision: For the present, I want him to remain innocent and to continue waking up happily when I prompt him into imagining he is running Grandpa’s jon boat to check the branch lines on the Little Dry Fork. For now, I will keep offering my boy the Disney version of Life.
That’s what I want for me, too – but I don’t have that luxury.
为了产生真正的灿烂笑容，我可以补充说：”带上22手枪，以防我们看到任何蛇。你带着它… …但要小心。” 七岁时，我的儿子正在经历一个阶段，他对枪支很着迷。他最喜欢的电视节目是那些以警察或士兵或超级英雄与他们的超级武器为主题的节目。如果我告诉他我选了一部电影让我们一起看，他的第一个问题就是：”它有枪吗？” 所以，想象他有一把手枪可以带在船上，一定会让他清醒和开心。不过，我也提醒他，如果他不小心在船底射出一个洞，他就得把它蛙到岸上，因为他刚把爷爷的船打沉了。他总是笑笑，但他很早就学会了枪支安全。
而且，这也是我这篇文章的重点。我应该告诉CS关于小干叉河上的虱子和恙虫吗？我是否应该提到蛇，虽然很少见，但总是有可能的？ (我从来没有告诉过他，有一天早上，一条水occasin–一条毒蛇–从他盘踞的树上掉进船里睡觉，直到我在检查他身下的树枝线时打扰了他。我没有把这件事告诉CS……但你可以肯定我永远不会忘记它）。) 但这就是我的观点。我应该告诉我的儿子那个童话般的生活的粗糙边缘吗？
现在，你能明白我为什么天天为儿子担心了吗？我希望他能挺过这个流行期，成为一个积极、开朗、自信的成年人……但是，首先，他要生存下来。必须在与外界隔绝，和训练在外界生存和发展之间取得平衡。我的决定 目前 我希望他保持天真无邪 当我提醒他想象他在开着爷爷的船去检查小干叉河的支线时 他就会继续快乐地醒来 现在，我会继续给我的孩子提供迪士尼版的生活。