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(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.

Photos by Randy

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.

Photos by Randy

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.

Photos by Randy

我是否应该告诉我儿子关于蜱虫和恙虫的事情?

我儿子七岁,对他的美国家庭很好奇。我想,这是很自然的,因为他只见过他们一次。我们去美国访问我的家乡时,他才两岁,所以他对那次旅行的记忆很少。这些天,代替他自己的经历,我喜欢给他讲故事–大多是真实的(不完全是虚构的),也大多是我在密苏里州罗尔拉市当青年时的真实生活(不太夸张)。

我曾多次向CS讲述,很多年前,爷爷(他的曾祖父)买了一辆退役的城市公交车,并把它拖到他的农场。他把那辆旧公交车安顿在小干叉溪的岸边。爷爷把公共汽车的座位拿出来,然后把公共汽车改成了一个永久性的钓鱼小屋,把它放在铁路拉杆和混凝土块的基础上。接着,他在现在空空如也的大巴车上装了几张小床、一张破旧的桌子和不配套的折叠椅,以及其他原始但足够的设施。最后,爷爷安装了一个炉子、冰箱和灯笼,所有这些都是由蹲在巴士旁边的LP(液体丙烷)大煤气罐提供的。当时没有电,也没有电话。(这是在手机发明之前的很长一段时间。)因此,保证了与世隔绝。

爷爷的公共汽车(我们总是叫它),坐在那里的溪岸上,是质朴的,简单的,欢迎一个疲惫的灵魂需要从现代生活中喘息。它成了我的家人多年来一直使用的一个与外界隔绝的避难所。公交车拥有我们所需要的所有功能–但却没有太多设备或机器的复杂性。借用Gordon MacQuarrie的一句话:”当你去丛林时,你是去抚平它,而不是去粗暴地对待它。”

爷爷选择的老公交车位置离他最近的邻居很远,离最近的高速公路也很远,连大卡车的声音都很少。他的背景噪音只有风吹过树梢,鸟儿唱歌,松鼠在树枝间跳跃,偶尔还有大平头鲶鱼或大口鲈鱼从小干叉的小居民中捞取晚餐的喀嚓声。尤其是在深夜,那黑暗中的水声爆炸肯定是人类已知的最刺激的声音之一。

在CQ的这些日子里,当我叫醒小切斯特,让他准备好迎接一年级课堂的严格要求时,我经常让他慢慢醒来,同时我和他说话。我让他发挥想象力,看到自己在小干叉河畔,享受着简单的乡村生活。爷爷在小河边坐公交车的事他都知道,这些故事他听了一辈子了。

“如果今天早上我们在小干岔上,你就赶紧穿好衣服,到爷爷的琼船上去。从车前门到小溪边只有二十五英尺–不过,你要小心从那陡峭的岸边下去。我们要坐他的小船去看看一夜之间在支线上有没有钓到鱼。我坐在前面照顾鱼,你坐在后面开电动拖曳马达。” 这样的设想,保证能让儿子露出笑容。

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。

读到这里,你可能会问,这篇胡言乱语是否有意义。是的,是有的。当我用小干叉上的生活故事唤醒CS时,我给他讲的是迪斯尼版的故事,故事里只有美好的事物和好人。我说的是鱼儿忠诚地咬人,安宁祥和,听着青蛙在黑暗中呱呱叫。我从不提虱子和恙虫–生活在草丛中的小昆虫,它们一咬就会让我们发狂发痒。我没有告诉CS关于蚊子的事,因为蚊子在夏天是个可怕的麻烦,尤其是在潮湿的年份。我不告诉他任何不舒服或不方便的地方,也不告诉他缺乏现代设施。我只告诉他好的东西。

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?

此外,我是否应该在他七岁的时候,告诉他《大都市生活》中的虱子和恙虫,以及在这个流行病时代的蚊子和蛇的现代等价物?当今世界的危险和危险人物,我应该给他多少警告?从他大到可以走路的时候,我就给他灌输了第一条规则:在你踏上大街之前,你要左顾右盼,看看有没有可能撞到你的车–在你踏上大街之前,你要这样做。而且你每次都会这样做! 但其他一些城市的虱子和恙虫呢?

作为父母,我们的工作是培养和保护我们的孩子。在他们年幼的时候,这意味着要保护他们免受生活中不那么美味的东西的侵害;父母要让他们在小时候享受他们的纯真。但是,在某些时候,父母的保护并不是有益的,它可能会变得适得其反。随着孩子们的长大,我们必须开始为他们做好应对世界的准备……没有爱他们的父母作为缓冲器,等待他们的是不愉快的事情。

那么,现代父母如何在保护孩子和为孩子在这个大而有时不友好的世界中生活做准备之间取得平衡呢?我如何教CS谨慎地信任别人,而又不教他对所有的人都持怀疑和嫉恨的态度?把所有的人际关系都看成是敌对关系,把所有的陌生人都看成是敌人,这不是我希望儿子成年后的生活方式。

在这个畸形但无形的科维德-19病毒时代,我如何教育儿子勤于卫生、疏远社交,而又不越界,让他变得偏执–害怕一切,害怕所有人?(对于这种偏执狂,有一点必须说好:你未必永远是对的,但你永远不会错–在这种致命的微生物面前,错了也是致命的)。然而,偏执狂并不有趣,它不会对你的生活质量有所帮助。

当我们在思考不可预知的事情时,这次流行病的经历会对我们的年幼的孩子产生什么长期影响,他们现在才开始意识到他们的家庭、社区和小学教室之外的更大的世界,他们如此年轻和可塑性强,这次经历会给他们的成年生活带来什么印象?成年后,会因为现在的恐惧和无力感而表现出什么样的性格特征?

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。

这也是我想要的–但我没有那么奢侈。

2 Replies to “Should I Tell My Son About the Ticks and Chiggers?”

  1. When I was a child, my family also offered me Disney version of Life, so I thought all people are nice and friendly. Actually, when I am grown up, I still believe that 99% of people are nice. CS will grow up, he will experience the bad or good things and he will learn the world from his experience. It’s ok to keep his childhood happy and innocent, and he will be positive about his life and future, simple childhood and life is a treasure for him.

  2. Oh, the memories! I don’t recall ever being to Grandpa’s camping bus, (girls were not invited, nor would I have gone – my idea of camping is staying at the Holiday Inn), but I do remember the many times you went and how much you enjoyed those times.

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