For my entire childhood, I believed The Sound of Music ended when the von Trapps sang at the Austrian music festival.
Each year, my Jewish mother, hellbent on shielding me from the film’s dark climactic scene — the family cowering from the Nazis — would simply tell me the film was over and ship me off to bed at that conveniently placed commercial break.
Not surprising, for I was raised by two helicopter parents well ahead of their time, who managed to keep even a city kid raised in New York’s gritty ’80s blissfully ignorant of all possible worldly woes. It wasn’t until years later, as a teenager, that I finally saw the movie in full and vowed I would never be that overprotective of my own children.
Then one day last fall, my older daughter comes home and tells me of a book she has randomly perused in her third-grade classroom library.
On Anne Frank.
My heart clenches. I’m not ready for this conversation. Surely, I have a few more years? I realized it might come up in Hebrew school someday. But right now my daughter knows nothing about the Holocaust. She’s 8. She doesn’t even know about menstruation. She still believes in the Tooth Fairy.
So far, I have somehow managed to shield her and her younger sister from the worst events of our times. They haven’t been told about September 11. Or the Sandy Hook shootings, which happened to occur the week we were at Disney World. Or about real-life monsters, like Ariel Castro.
And then it dawns on me that I am overprotective in exactly the way I swore I’d never be. And I’m not sure that I care.
I find the book during her school’s open house a few days later and surreptitiously flip through it, hoping it won’t be as bad as I fear. But no. The biographer doesn’t sugarcoat history: Hitler’s persecution of the Jews. Anne’s ultimate demise in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.
I know they’ve covered slavery during Martin Luther King Day discussions, and I know they’ll cover battle and bloodshed this year in American history. But somehow genocide plopped between Magic Tree House and Diary of a Wimpy Kid feels heavy-handed.
As a journalist and young-adult author, I find myself for the first time on the other side, able to sympathize with those parents, the ones who try to yank books from public libraries and harass school librarians for what they deem inappropriate for their precious snowflakes. I’d be the last person ever to call the school and complain about a book — or would I?
As I close the book, I feel a wash of emotions: sadness, that my daughter has to learn of true evil in this world, directed squarely at her and her ancestors. Anger, that the choice of how and when to tell her has been stolen from me.
Later that night, as we lie in bed, my daughter asks questions and I try my best to answer. If she’s traumatized, she doesn’t show it. Finally, she sighs and rolls over, saying sleepily, “It happened a long time ago, right?” Clearly, she’s filing this away among the Jewish holidays we celebrate, all with a similar theme: They tried to kill us, they failed, let’s eat! “Right,” I tell her, committing one slight lie of omission: It wasn’t all that long ago.
I no longer resent my parents for shielding me from reality. Instead, I see it as the finest gift they could give: the gift of childhood. I only wish I could have preserved it for my own daughter just a little bit longer.
Melissa Schorr is a frequent contributor to the Globe Magazine. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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