Listen To What They Have To Say

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Cartoon programs became popular when I was a child. I grew up in the early days of television and by the time I was seven or eight years old there there a slew of shows aimed at kids, many were cartoons. My favorite had to be Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends. The show was rather irreverent and satirical, but I preferred that sort of humor even when I was young. I tended to prefer Goofy over Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny over Donald Duck, the Roadrunner over Mighty Mouse. Still, I sometimes think that I grew up during the heyday of cartoon shows, including The Flintstones and The Jetsons. Those Hanna-Barbera atrocities that were all the rage when my daughters were little were just plain silly and uncreative as far as I was concerned. Not even the most popular of them all, Scooby Doo, had any attraction for me. It would be years before I would find a cartoon that I thought was comparable in quality of writing to the best of my era. That’s when I found Dexter’ Laboratory on the cartoon network.

Dexter was a boy genius even from the time he was a baby. His hero was Albert Einstein and he had created a hidden laboratory behind a bookcase in his home that even his parent’s did not discover. There he created various inventions but was often foiled by his sister Dee Dee and his villainous rival Mandark. I enjoyed the cleverness of the stories and the snappy dialogue. They reminded me of the old Rocky cartoons that I so loved. 

I’d love to see Dexter attempting to save the world from Covid 19. It would be fun to create a story in which he toils away in his lab ultimately finding a 100% effective cure for the virus. Of course the plot would include derailment of his plans along the way by his nosy sister and the jealousy of Mandark. In the end, inspired by Albert Einstein, Dexter would persist until one day he unlocked every secret of the virus including how it began and how to prevent it from ever again harming anyone. Isn’t that how the fantasy of cartoons is supposed to work? Someone always comes to save the day. 

My nephews are volunteers in a drug trial for children under the age of twelve. One of them told his brothers that they are lucky to be the heroes who will help to save the children of the world. That statement is not hyperbole at all. It will take lots of children like him to test the efficacy and safety of the vaccine. When it finally becomes available for widespread use in the coming months, it will have been youngsters like my nephews who helped to save so many children. 

We think of youngsters as being unaware of the world around them when many if not most of them are actually rather precocious like Dexter. They have an understanding of what is happening around them even if no adults are taking the time to talk to them or to realize what is on their minds. How much better it would be if every parent took the time to respect their children by engaging them in age appropriate discussions about what they may be seeing in the world. 

I love my Uncle Bob because when I discovered that one of his legs had been amputated he very honestly told me about his cancer. He explained why the doctor had to remove part of his leg. He did not lie when I asked him if he would be okay forevermore since the offending cancer had been removed. When he died I was only five, so nobody spoke to me about the details of his passing. Instead they whispered behind closed doors. They did not know that I was only okay because my favorite uncle had taken the time to answer my questions with great care. Even at a very young age I needed to have a tiny dose of honesty delivered in a very loving way. He gave me that precious gift.

When my father died three years late well-meaning adults tiptoed around me as though I might not even notice that he was gone. They tried to spare me from discussions about how my father had died. It was left to my best friend Lynda to give me all of the details that she had heard from her mother. It was Lynda who went to my father’s funeral and told me who was there and what had been said. I appreciated her for understanding that I needed to know those things. There was no way that my feelings could be spared. I was already devastated.

We underestimate children just as Dexter’s parents did with him in that cartoon. They were literally clueless that he was creating so many marvelous things. While his story was farfetched, real children are much more aware than we often believe. They need to talk about what they are seeing and hearing and fearing. A wise parent finds ways to settle their minds by allowing them to ask questions and then giving them real answers, not those that hide the truth. 

So much is happening right now. Children can feel the anxiety in their homes even if nothing is discussed in front of them. They hear things from other children that frighten them. Maybe they do not even know how to tell the adults about their concerns. A daily inquiry into what may be worrying them can really help. There is no telling what may be bearing on their little minds. I remember that I used to be stressed that my mother would die and I would be an orphan. I never told anyone about that, but I created a plan in my mind that brought me comfort because I believed that my Aunt Valeria would adopt me. 

Take time to really talk with your children. Be gentle. Allow them to express their feelings. When the fears surface handle them with honesty and reassurance. Children are watching and internalizing the anxieties and even the anger that is so prevalent today. Talk to them. They need for someone to hear what they have to say.