And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
I was six years old when I went to my first funeral. My agnostic parents and grandparents explained to me in the best nomenclature they could muster the events that would transpire. I received a new jacket that night and we entered into the brisk fall weather of Upstate New York to attend the viewing. While I saw the coffin from far away, I was prohibited from getting close enough to see my deceased great grandfather. While I remember this evening and the tears my grandmother shed on behalf of her bereaved father, those events are slightly overshadowed by my joy of receiving a new jacket. I’m grateful for the way these events transpired as it helped protect and preserve my childlike naïveté and innocence—at least for a few more years. To have seen a dead body and pondered the finality of death would’ve caused a disorienting acceleration to my maturation.
If at the same time in my life my teenaged sister confessed to me that she was actually my mother and the woman I’d always known as my mother was actually my grandmother, it would’ve had an even more disorienting and negative effect on my childhood. I don’t know a six year old that possesses the emotional intelligence or skill set to navigate such a world-shattering revelation. For this reason it surprised me when I read in the New York Times that the target audience for The Disney Channel’s newest show—dealing with this exact scenario—begins at age six.
The day has arrived where our kindergartners are involuntarily thrown into the deep end of social issues that require a maturity level far too advanced for their current stage of life. Add to the list of perpetrators: The Disney Channel. While many were debating the level of transgression committed by the inclusion of a gay character in Disney’s recent adaptation of Beauty and The Beast, their television counterpart smuggled highly complex social themes into their daily programming for elementary students.
Where in previous generations a parent feared explaining why Gary the goldfish was flushed down the toilet to their six year old; the modern parent fears explaining why Geri changed her name (and gender) from Gary during recess. In a world where boys can become girls, now add to the list after school programming that demonstrates how sisters can become moms. While conflating these two phenomenons may seem unfair on the surface, the issue I’m driving at is a newfound insistence that children be exposed to every possible lifestyle situation regardless of how threatening to their innocence or security it is. The reality that some men wish they are women and some young girls get pregnant is irrefutable, but the insistence that my kindergartner needs to have answers to questions that he isn’t asking regarding these realities is concerning.
The playground is a place of wonder and discovery. There all the childlike attributes that are commended by Jesus are exhibited. The great dilemmas of the playground are popped kickballs, an odd number of people for a team, or having your hopscotch game interrupted by rain. At some point Jenny’s mother might have to explain to her why Johnny doesn’t have coodies and tries to kiss her—but only when the environment provides that opportunity naturally. Far be it from us, or Disney, to contaminate the playground waters prematurely by introducing conflicts foreign to developing minds and hearts. Minds and hearts that are lost in the complexities of trying to figure out why their chests hurt when they run too fast, not the complexities of why it hurts when a loved one dies or when you find out your estranged sister is actually your mother.
In a previous era mothers and fathers sheltered their children from exposure to certain facts of life—not because they denied that those facts of life existed, but because they believed the existence of certain realities was threatening to the development and innocence of a child still caught up in the joy of reading nursery rhymes. “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die,” wrote King Solomon. Some parents, still believing that, want to wait until the correct time to expose their children to the reality of teen pregnancies, adoption, gender dysphoria, and, yes, even death.
Should I have been allowed to look in the casket at my great grandfather’s funeral and seen his lifeless eyes I might’ve lost something, the childlike innocence that told me the world is safe, that my parents loved me and protected me from the dangers of the world. The insistence that this coming generation be forced to ponder the answers to questions far beyond the level of which they are asking makes me fear another funeral. I sit in the back and refuse to look in the casket, not because I fear the lack of life—my childhood ended long ago—instead I fear I will find inside the innocence of our children wearing a trademarked pair of black mouse ears.