During our recent roadtrip, T came across dozens of shoes left behind on a set of stairs.
The stairs belonged to the Town Hall of Gananoque, where we spent a nice weekend exploring the Thousand Islands.
Across Canada, citizens gathered and left shoes behind at government sites in recognition of the discovery of several hundred remains of children at the site of a former residential school.
Naturally, our curious T asked the hubby why the shoes were there.
I was curious to see how the hubby would explain a dark topic such as evil to a young child.
For me, young kids see the world in black and white and have an innocent view of the world – an innocence I want to hang onto for as long as I can, because I know it will be gone one day.
I’ve read that kids with FASD, of which T has an at risk prognosis, have a harder time with abstract concepts.
In T’s world, the concept of a hero and villain is straightforward. If you’re a Paw Patrol or Mario, you’re good. If you’re the red wall from Roblox or Hawkmoth from Miraculous, you’re a bad guy and evil. Zombies and vampires? Definitely bad.
But how do you explain to a young child the concept of the government and the Church, traditionally seen by children as forces of good, forcibly taking Indigenous children away from their families to assimilate to Canadian society – and that these children lived in poor conditions, many were abused and died, and those who survived now live with lifelong trauma?
The hubby kept his explanation high level. He explained the shoes were left to remember kids who were taken away from their families to attend a school and that these kids got very sick in the places they lived in and many of them died.
Our zombie-obsessed T then asked if the kids are now zombies.
I’m sharing T’s response not as a sign of disrespect but to convey just how innocent a child like T is and how a difficult conversation, such as the evils that society and individuals do to others, needs to be framed in an age appropriate way.
A few steps from the Town Hall was a beautiful memorial to remember the towns people who heroically fought and died in war.
The hubby kept the explanation simple again, explaining that the names on the statue were of people who had died while fighting for the country.
I didn’t think the concept of a war was something we wanted to get into too much detail too at this time either for T.
For a young child, the world is a place of wonder and amazement. While I want to hang onto T’s innocence as long as possible, I’m also aware and not naive enough to think that kids can’t handle difficult and dark topics, such as evil.
I am glad that topics such as residential schools are now being taught in schools, because I don’t remember learning about them in grade school.
I think education is one important step is helping history not repeat itself.
Another important step is doing our part to speak up.
Last Monday, T and I were playing as usual in the playground after I picked him up from daycare.
There were four boys in the park with us and I estimated them to be about 12-13 years old.
One of them encouraged the group to head towards T’s daycare entrance, where a pile of toys had been left outside.
Each boy grabbed toys in both hands and started running away from the daycare.
They came back to the playground and started laughing and chuckling. “We got new toys!” They said and were about to head home with them.
I was about to stay silent because part of me thought that they were just kids being kids. But I spoke up as they walked away from the park.
“You know that’s stealing right?” I said.
The boys stopped and looked at me.
“You need to go back and return those toys right now,” I said.
The boys just laughed at me, the old curmudgeonly man with my cane, and then threw four hullahoops and two balls to the ground.
“We’re keeping this soccer ball,” one of them said defiantly and the group ran away from me.
I picked up the toys and walked them to the daycare and called the daycare staff to explain what happened and they were appreciative and put the toys inside the building.
To be clear, I am not equating the pesky mischief of these four boys with the horrors of residential schools or war.
To me, it was important for T to see grownups role model the act of speaking up when someone is doing something wrong.
At dinner time, T and I spoke about the playground incident with the hubby and T said those boys were being bad.
For a young 6-year-old, that is a good enough step in what will be a lifelong journey of learning about the nuances of good, evil and everything in between – and doing our part to educate about and stand up for what is right.