Ready for the World?

For the last few months, my oldest daughter has been debating current events with her best friend. My wife and I have been witnesses to her burgeoning political and cultural awareness, and it has taken me back to my own awakening.

For the last few months now, my oldest daughter has been debating current events with her best friend. My wife and I have been not-so-silent witnesses to her burgeoning political and cultural awareness, and I have to admit that it has taken me back to my own awakening.

Back in the day, before the advent of social media and the 24-hour cable news cycle, we got our news from the daily papers (morning and afternoon editions) and the evening news (a half-hour of local reporting followed by another half-hour of national and international coverage). It all seems so quaint now, the idea of waiting, of not being instantly connected. Breaking news had meaning back then because to actually collect enough information to confirm the details of an evolving story meant that the event had to be of the highest order — a natural catastrophe, a political assassination, a hostage crisis.

Daily routines were established around the dissemination of the news. Dinnertime with my mother and grandmother revolved around the news hour. They had me reading from the newspaper before I entered kindergarten and hammered into me the notion that I needed to be aware of what was going on in the world. We might not have had much money, but we were as information rich as we could be.

Between the two of them and my extended family of aunties and friends, healthy debate dominated conversations at any and all gatherings. My grandmother wasn’t as politically active as my mother, but she made her feelings known about everything from 1970s gas prices (even though she didn’t drive) to the Iranian Hostage Crisis to her outrage over the appalling race-baiting sentiments of Sen. Jesse Helms.

I read the papers and watched the news, but, more importantly, I hovered around all of those gatherings, trying not to get caught underfoot and shuttled off to the kid’s table. I wanted to hear what they were saying. I just had to know what was going on.

I remember being in elementary school and taking part in a straw poll in my classroom during the 1976 election. Most of the kids were talking about the candidates on the most basic levels, parroting what they heard from their parents for the most part, but I felt like I knew more about Jimmy Carter. Even at that young age, based on what I had gleaned from the news, I liked him as a person, and I see now that I might have been ready to step in a booth and cast a vote like the average voting adult, then and now.

Ideally, though, you move beyond the simple likeability test to a deeper understanding and appreciation of the issues. And to do that, you have to test yourself in the waters of debate. That’s where my oldest daughter is currently. She’s been listening to the raging discussions around the house. I would argue that she’s probably not watching the news as religiously as I did at her age, but she’s getting the constant fragments when she logs on to the Internet or when she’s channel surfing in the evening.

But is she ready for the world?

That I’m not so sure of, although I find myself making a more concerted effort to follow-up with her when she relays her side of these debates she’s having with her friends. I have to because she’s still just a kid, one who believes she knows everything. It’s that stubborn sense that kids have, which is so fascinating and can be both a blessing and a curse. I want her to be ready when she wades into the turbulent waters. I want her to be a strong swimmer and not a flailer, splashing around and disturbing the waters even further. I want her to listen — and think — before she speaks.

The first time I inserted myself in one of those adult debates when I was young, I was scared shitless. I can’t recall the specifics, but I know I had a pretty fair command of the details for the point I was ready to make. That didn’t matter, though. I just didn’t want to make a fool of myself by not having considered all sides. I held my own, but I recognized that in order to keep it up, to solidify my claim to a seat at the adult table, I had to learn more.

And that desire is what I want for my daughter. I want her to see that being ready is a never-ending process.

CONTACT TT STERN-ENZI: [email protected]

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