Like all moms out there, I struggled with knowing exactly when to broach certain topics with my kids. When to assume they were mature enough for sensitive discussions about those "taboo" subjects that make all parents pause and shudder. Yes, you know the ones.
Things like beheadings, backstabbings, extramarital affairs, illegitimate children, political assassinations, love triangles, polygamy, suicide, disposal of bodies, hiding evidence, miscellaneous subterfuge and, of course, asps.
Essentially, all the facts of life. Why couldn't I find any chapters on those by the so-called experts Dr. Spock & Dr. Sears?
Well, let me tell you, the perfect age for exposing your impressionable youngster to each of these worthy life lessons is 4 years old. I know what you're thinking, just how long did I think I could keep overprotecting them? Homeschooled kids are so sheltered.
I admit, it wasn't even my idea to teach them any of this so early & in my master syllabus we were to wait for the macabre until kindergarten, at least. I'd adamantly refused to add Shakespearean drama to Richard Scarry selections for our storytimes, despite the kiddos' pleadings and peer pressure.
Really, some homeschooling moms were shocked. They extolled the virtues of condensed versions of Shakespeare's tales retold by Mary & Charles Lamb. They shook their heads at me & questioned whether I truly could have been an English major in college. But, I steadfastly resisted - I suppose it's that dysfunctional, parental urge to preserve childhood for as long as possible. . .
I just couldn't see how most of the historical plays, tragedies or even comedies transferred very well into abridged, ten page summaries. (If only my high school students had known about the Lamb version, all those wasted minutes reading Cliffs notes could have been saved. . . ) I mean, what's left in Romeo and Juliet: 2 teens go behind their parents' backs, swing around on a balcony one night, a friar actually helps them come up with a completely numskull idea & they both end up killing themselves. There's not even any redeeming Elizabethan blank verse and, horrors, all puns are edited out.
So, how did I lose control? It was when I least suspected it, got distracted and let Katrianna, a preschooler at the time, check out the comic book version of Egyptian pharaoh history. How could I be so irresponsible, you ask? (Sure, hindsight is always 20/20.)
Before I could "preview" it, she'd zipped through the whole thing in the car on the drive home. She'd been a very enthusiastic Egyptology student and even when we were 'officially done' with our school unit, she'd happily continued to pursue her independent studies. I tried to keep up, but she'd left me in the dust after the middle kingdom. . .
I was none the wiser, a complacent and oblivious parent, until weeks later when the "ides of March" was upon us. I referred to the infamous phrase in passing and then saw a quizzical look on the kids' faces, so I began to explain that it was an important day in Roman history & people thought bad things might happen. . . before I could get any further, Mikaela interrupted to explain all about omens and how a seer told Julius Caesar he would die that day. I hurriedly shushed her, casting meaningful Quiet! glances in the direction of her little sister who seemed to be listening. Mikaela finally got the subtle hint. All was silent.
Seizing the opening, Katrianna then commenced to fill in the blanks of our stories: "Julius Caesar was surprised and stabbed by some senators, including his buddy Brutus. Marc Antony had tried to stop it, but he was too late."
I thought, Brutus? And not the one who beats up Popeye?
I kneeled down and took her by the hand. "How do you know about Marc Antony, sweetheart?"
"Well, he was one of Cleopatra's boyfriends. Julius Caesar didn't want to leave her after they had a baby, but he had to go back to Rome. Then she and Marc Antony had some kids... twins!"
I was stunned, but she interpreted that as rapt attention so she continued: "And then before Marc Antony could lead an army against the conspur.. conspur.. con-spur-a-ters, he and Cleopatra were caught and he killed himself with a dagger. And then Cleopatra was sad, so she picked up an asp and it stung her, so she died too."
No way, this is not happening was all I could muster in terms of profound response. But, she wasn't finished, only catching her breath.
"Oh, and I forgot! Before all that, they showed Julius Caesar Pompey's head in a jar of honey." *
A jar of honey? And, for my daughters, that evokes not Pooh & Piglet, but a decapitated Pompey? (These are the same girls who at that time couldn't get through the witch & apple scene in Snow White. Apparently, make-believe, Disney violence is a lot more frightening than the real deal.)
At that moment, it dawned on me that I had misunderestimated** my little homeschoolers. They were, in fact, not ready for independent study. That evening at bedtime, all together, we began reading aloud Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, since really the bard could add nothing with his rendition of Julius Caesar.
Editorial note: I realize I reneged on my personal blogging vow and posted a whole entry here without any puns. True, some subjects are just inherently lacking in humor, but I still acknowledge I've let everyone down. As the Romans might say before throwing me to the lions, "What the Hail, Caesar?! That was really bad forum."
Ahh, that makes me feel much gladiator. Two thumbs up!
*For the historical sticklers, it was actually Alexander's body that was stored in honey & Pompey's head which was presented in a basket. Katrianna's confusing them is evidence of our slacker, half-asped approach to history. Better get back to the basics. "Kids, go outline some chapters in a textbook."
**Don't judge. It happens to the best of us, doesn't it, Dubya?