My son Milo started reading when he was three. Almost seven now, he reads everything and anything–with the exception, he explains, of “fiction.” If it’s not based upon something tangible in the world he’s not interested, which makes him a strangely knowledgeable authority on things well beyond his years.

Milo knows about many subjects, but like his father he’s got a remarkable memory for dates, maps and events over the course of human history. And while he’s still very much a seven-year-old, thus making historical context a little complicated for him, he can tell you with fair accuracy the major events of both the First and Second World Wars. He knows about shipwrecks, which ones went down when, what the differences in their destruction were, why the passenger liner Lusitania is suspected of carrying weapons destined for England (a second explosion in her hull after the Germans shot her–a suspiciously huge blast which sunk her in eighteen minutes).

Last week over waffles in Hawaii, Milo was reading a souvenir newspaper I bought him from Pearl Harbor, a tiny little grownup pouring over the tragedies of December 7, 1941 with the gravity of a concerned citizen. “It’s so nice to see a kid reading the paper,” a gentleman told my brother, no matter that it was several years out of date and had the headline WAR! across the top in 200 point type. “No-one reads the paper anymore.”

My brother, not having kids of his own yet, readily recognized the opportunity to brag. “That’s nothing. Check this out.” He turned to Milo. “Tell me about the mongoose.”

Milo considered for a moment. “Well, they hunt during the day unlike the palm rats, which means they’re not nocturnal. So they’re diurnal. Yep. Diurnal. Also, they’re invasive here in Hawaii.”

The man just stared. “Okay, then!”

My brother laughed with pride when he told me the story.

This is what we have to deal with around these parts: a seven-year-old who is extremely seven-ish when it comes to his emotional maturity but can pull facts out of the clouds like rain. His insatiable quest for knowledge keeps us up long past his bedtime with his queries about historical events. Last night, in the dark, looking at the mottled shadows, he said: “Tell me about the French Revolution.”

The French Revolution isn’t one of my stronger suits. I admitted to Milo that he really should ask Dad about it, but the short of it is this: people were sick to death of monarchs and took matters into their own hands to create a republic, but then everyone got a little carried away and started slaughtering people mercilessly from all quarters. Then a little short guy led the French army throughout Europe, taking over a great deal of it until they got to Russia, which by its very nature defeated Napoleon and his troops.

“That’s the 1812 Overture,” Milo said.

Good grief, I thought.

So you will understand when I explain that his head doesn’t work within the realm of superheroes and sports figures. He works with historical heroes and villains, Nazis and Napoleon, U-boats and the Blitz, air raids and invasions on land and by sea. This is what he knows.

The other day he drew a picture in class on the back of his spelling test. It features two people in a fire truck driving up to a burning building, at the top of which is a tiny figure, apparently caught in the fire. One stick says to the other stick, pointing a little stick finger at the building, “That’s a Nazi.”

Which, if you know my kid, makes perfect sense.

But his teacher somewhat frantically pulled Lars aside to point it out. “I wanted to show this to you,” she started. “I didn’t even notice it at first, but some other parent saw it and was really upset by it.”

Lars took a look at it. “It’s what he knows,” he said. “He knows about World War II and he knows who the Nazis are.” She looked unmoved. “Our family is Jewish,” he said, a strange sort of justification when you get down to it.

“It’s just one of those things we need to be sensitive about,” she replied. But she was rattled and didn’t know how to deal with it. She wanted it to go away.

After Lars explained the situation to me, we were at a loss. Milo hadn’t condoned Nazism, nor written about how Adolph Hitler was a fine fellow with great ideas; he had drawn a picture with a Nazi in it. A stick Nazi. Had the words, “That’s a Nazi” not been written, it would have been just another seven-year-old artwork exploring seven-year-old anxieties and thoughts about his seven-year-old world.

And we realized, both because we were getting defensive, but also because we were genuinely angry about it, that if Milo had written “That’s the Shining Path,” or “He’s Pol Pot” or “There’s Darth Vader,” no-one would have thought twice about it.

Now we were placed in the unenviable position of explaining to Milo that his teacher was upset by something somewhat intangible. He hadn’t espoused any belief in the Nazi philosophy, nor had he made reference to anything they had done, either in support or condemnation. He didn’t call someone on the playground a Nazi. He hadn’t done anything wrong. We explained to Milo that we weren’t mad, but that he couldn’t talk about Nazis in school. “Why?” he asked – reasonably, I might add. If you can’t talk about Nazis in school, where can you talk about them? Are schools for learning about everything except the Nazis? He’d written a solitary word, one based in a period of history he knows about, in a drawing. He’d written a word. “I can’t believe my first grader is being censored!” Lars said, and while “censored” is a bit hyperbolic, I have to agree: this was much ado about nothing.

If the word “Nazi” still has the power to terrify in this knee-jerk way, it makes me extremely uncomfortable about where we’re headed. If we can’t talk about Nazis, we can’t talk about what happened in World War II. And if Mark Twain’s “niggers” are excised from Huckleberry Finn, we can’t talk about slavery or the Civil War with any realism. If we’re hair-trigger about certain buzzwords like “Nazi” and “nigger” even in their historical context while overlooking other historical atrocities, like Cortez storming the New World and Mao’s “Cultural Revolution,” we’re whitewashing all of them, either by hysterical touchiness or willful ignorance.

Language is as powerful as you’re willing to make it. To de-fang “Nazis,” who still feature prominently in popular culture despite our first grade teacher’s wish, we have to talk about what they did. Indiana Jones, made of either video game LEGO’s or Harrison Ford’s best years, still fights the Nazis in front of thousands of children every day. Children are exposed to Nazis; if we can’t explain why they’re important, we’ve lost the struggle for making meaning out of the meaningless.

Nothing was more meaningless than the Holocaust. If we cannot explore the senseless, meaningless horror of it because we can’t write the word “Nazi,” we’re in a whole heap of trouble.


*In the days that have followed, things, as they do, have changed somewhat. Milo’s teacher has talked to us more completely and we have an understanding. But certain things remain true, and it bothers me. I wrote a comment to Ronlyn Domingue which I think sums up my remaining feeling about the situation, even with the understanding with his teacher.

You know, I have to be fair here. The teacher has talked to me in the aftermath, and she’s okay. She knows that Milo is a kid whose curiosity runs from the interesting to the completely arcane. She felt she had to raise the subject with us because the other parent was sort of hysterical about it. This is coming clear in the days following–but it certainly wasn’t clear when I wrote this post. That’s the problem with internet immediacy. Facts changing to make a less charged situation.

However, having exonerated my son’s teacher I will say this: the parent who became hysterical about my son’s drawing had no jurisdiction to become so. The same truth of knee-jerk reactions about things applies as much as when I wrote it, and I’ve experienced it in other situations. People love to moralize where there is no moral.

The truth is, whatever issues this parent raised about my son’s drawing caused far more harm than good. First, there was no wrong done, and now my son feels embarrassed about it, doesn’t know what he can and can’t talk about in school, and feels like he did something wrong, no matter our assurances to the contrary. Second, what business was it of hers anyway? She’s not teaching the class; the teacher admitted that when she saw the drawing that was causing the fuss she just shrugged and knew it was Milo being Milo. The parent has no context, no history with him, doesn’t see him on a daily basis; how can she be so impertinent to think she should call him out to the teacher?

This sort of petty mischief in the guise of being a concerned citizen enrages me. It’s not the first time it’s raised my hackles and I’m sure it won’t be the last. The shrapnel from this one event is going to take a long time to remove.

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QUENBY MOONE used to be a graphic designer who wrote once in a while. After her father came down with a touch of Stage IV prostate cancer, she became a writer who did graphic design once in a while.

She's written a book called Living in Twilight (no relation to vampires - unless dying of cancer is a part of Edward's story) in which her design skills came in handy, and includes some of her stories featured on The Nervous Breakdown.

64 responses to “The First Rule of First Grade: Do Not Talk About Nazis”

  1. Greg Olear says:

    I hope you send the teacher the link. Sheesh. I love Milo, and good for him that he knows so much arcane stuff. I wish he and Dominick could have a playdate.

    Really well done, as usual. And one of the better titles in recent memory.

    • Quenby Moone says:

      I wish he and Dom could have a playdate too! And that you lived next door so that our porches were merged. And that every day after school we could let them at each other to out-arcane each other. They could have “Arcane-Offs;” if they got really good at it we could sell tickets.

      That’s what I’m talking about. Making money off the boys.

      Thanks about the title. I guess I have to thank Chuck Pahallalaliulkkhiulk for that one.

      • Greg Olear says:

        It would be like categories on Jeopardy!:

        “I’ll take The French Revolution for 200, Alex.”

        Dom would be all over floorplans, architectural styles, lamp models, and interstate highways.

        • Quenby Moone says:

          “No, Milo, I’m sorry. The question we were looking for was, ‘Who was Marat?’ Zola wrote ‘J’accuse,’ not the inflammatory writings of the French Revolution.”

        • Greg Olear says:

          Alex: “The correct answer is ‘Richardsonian Romanesque,’ Dominick, but I’m afraid you’ve forgotten to phrase your answer in the form of a question.”

          Dom: “Wah. Stupid idiot gameshow host. I don’t like you anymore!” [storms off]

  2. Irene Zion says:

    Quenby,

    When do the book-burnings begin?

  3. Gloria says:

    This makes me simultaneously giddy and angry. Milo is amazing, Q. What an amazing, brilliant, clever, quirky little person.

    Also, I’d like to say that this is a Portland thing in a lot of ways. This desperate need for everything to be painfully kumbaya. Yes, we’re progressive and open minded and accepting here – atypical sexual leanings? We’re for it! Accommodations to reduce, reuse, and recycle every single thing ever produced on the planet – even if it extenuating factors make it more of a burden than help (it takes A LOT of water – hot water – to rinse out a peanut butter container)? You bet! But if you acknowledge the existence of violence in the world, like Milo, or work out your emotional struggles by being less than pleasant to your schoolmates, like Indigo or Tolkien on a bad day? No way. We’re so intolerant in our sanctimonious tolerance that sometimes I get really angry. Nearly violently angry.

    • Quenby Moone says:

      There’s definitely a Portland theme to this one. On the one hand, we’re willing to embrace ‘the weird’ [“Keep Portland Weird!” being one of the most nonsensical, pointless slogans for a city I’ve ever seen) but when it comes to facing facts–about just about anything–people look away and whistle.

      Tax problems? Fangless legislators can’t touch this one and the anti-tax goons keep throwing it up to a vote.

      School problems? BOND! Wrapping paper sales! Auction!

      Race issues? WHERE?

      Anyway, you’re right about sensitivity meters being out of whack. Nazi is a word that is a part of history, OUR HISTORY. Since he goes to a Japanese immersion school, he very well could have written, “That’s a Japanese bomber pilot,” which would make sense since we just got back from Pearl Harbor. The politically correct touchy-feeliness doesn’t help anyone; it just masks real things with cotton candy. Also, it makes things people are confused about, or afraid of, more afraid. Things lose their ability to terrify once you bring them into the light.

      Lord. This one hurts my brain.

      • Gloria says:

        School problems? BOND! Wrapping paper sales! Auction!

        **weeps**

        For a town hailed nationwide as a great place to live because of it’s uberawesome everything -Our. School system. Fucking. SUCKS.

        I love T and I’s school, because, like Milo’s, it’s a focus-option school and there is a gaggle of parents working their asses off to make it go.

        Lest I stray too far off topic, I’ll stop.

        Did this work itself out? Did Milo have any sadness that a kerfuffle was made from this? You and Lars are topnotch, Quenby.

        • Quenby Moone says:

          Our school system is freaking PITIFUL. I cannot believe some of the stuff we have to put up with. I know sales taxes are considered “regressive;” I studied political economy in school. But for GOD’S SAKE, put a sales tax on things! TWO PERCENT only for EDUCATION! Not on staple food stuff, not on WIC items, not on food stamps. TWO PERCENT IS ALL I’M ASKING.

          For the love of Pete, it’s ridiculous what we have to do to keep things going around here.

          You know, Milo was okay. He was sad for two reasons, I think. The first was that we warned him that other people wouldn’t understand if he talked about Nazis in the first grade so he had the head’s up. He didn’t understand what we were yammering about at the time because he doesn’t equate NAZI with anything other than one of the many operators in WWII. But now he’s fully cognizant of the pettiness people are capable of. What a disappointment.

          The second reason I think he was sad was that he felt like he disappointed his teacher. Which, to my understanding of matters having just spoken to Lars, isn’t true. She knows what a pistol he is, and felt like she needed to address it with us because another parent had become alarmed by it. Ugh.

          Now I need to worry about some other parent freaking out about my kid.

          Well. OFF TO SCHOOL TO PICK UP MY SON! *whistles*

        • Gloria says:

          Not that this is exactly the same, but I think it’s similar: Tolkien had his first sleepover ever this weekend. Indigo didn’t go with him and was profoundly disappointed, as he’s never had a sleepover at all. So, I said, “Well, Indigo, it had to happen first for one of you. It could have just as easily been you. What you need to do is plan a sleepover with a friend. It’ll be your turn soon.”

          Indigo said, “Okay, can I call Zola and see if her parents will let me have a sleepover there?”

          Zola is Indigo’s closest friend in 3rd grade. A girl. I had to tell him no and he was thoroughly confused. He asked why. That was a tough conversation. That boy parts and girl parts fit together is so far in another universe that Indigo looked at me like I was speaking Martian. I was delicate and diplomatic, of course.

          Anyway, in some ways I think this is right around the age that our kids start facing their first sort of grown up disappointments. And it’s just heartbreaking.

        • Quenby Moone says:

          Anyway, in some ways I think this is right around the age that our kids start facing their first sort of grown up disappointments.

          Jesus, that’s the nail on the head right there. We’re fallible in ways that they discover independently of us. They begin to put the pieces together that adults, almighty though they might seem, make strange judgment calls, have Achilles heels, make stupendously stupid choices based on air-thin evidence.

          And lemme tell you, after this weekend, I’m pretty sure I fill the bill with all these assessments.

          They’re beginning to see that we’re improvising most of the time. Crap.

        • Gloria says:

          My boys are totally onto me. Luckily, like Santa, they still choose to believe.

  4. Milo is so awesome, I learn more from him than I did in school. And you two are amazing parents. I’m sorry his teacher is a putz. She may have never come up against a seven year old that is smarter than she is, so instead of working with him, and you, she’s just scared.

    I hope she chooses to rethink her reaction and turn the situation into a positive for herself and her future students.

    • Quenby Moone says:

      I learn more from him than I did in high school! Wait. We went to the same school. That might explain something…

      I don’t know where to go with the teacher. On the one hand I feel like I need to reassure her we’re not nutjobs; on the other I think of Hamlet’s mother saying, “Methinks the lady doth protest too much,” that somehow if I go back and try to fix any damage I’ll only make it worse and make us really look guilty.

      Also, let’s not forget…some other kid’s parent pointed the drawing out in the first place. There’s TWO concerned citizens.

  5. Art Edwards says:

    “Now we were placed in the unenviable position of explaining to Milo that his teacher was upset by something somewhat intangible.” Ha!

    My guess is the teacher doesn’t make enough to afford a house and therefore doesn’t want to handle anything as mildly complicated as the use of the word “Nazi” in her first grade class.

    Back to “I see Sam,” children. Hopefully Milo won’t be bored to tears.

    Art

    • Quenby Moone says:

      “Hello, Sam!”

      I think he’s doing fine, though yeah, history isn’t a strong feature of first grade curriculum. Luckily we have his brain being bent by learning Japanese which stretches his lobes a bit. It’s tough to have to teach to the middle. If there were more resources and classes were smaller it would be a lot easier to accommodate the edges as well.

      *shakes fist impotently at Portland school system and tax activists*

  6. Oh yes, send this essay to the teacher *and* the parent. You’re absolutely right though — my daughter made a painting in preschool of Darth Maul, and no one thought anything of it. And Darth Maul isn’t even historical/educational except for in a galaxy far, far away.

    • Quenby Moone says:

      That’s an important galaxy to most kids! I’m pretty sure I was more interested in the history of Star Wars than I was in the history of history. Milo just wants to know about different galaxies! Darth Maul was a baddie, though. That kid should have her head checked!

      HAH!

  7. Ben Loory says:

    so what did you tell milo when he asked why he couldn’t talk about nazis?

    • Quenby Moone says:

      It was tough. We had to explain that what the Nazis did was so horrible that people still thought about it all the time, and that people were nervous about it happening again. We also explained that people sometimes thought if you talk about it, you ARE a Nazi. It’s not a hopeful message. It’s not a message that celebrates academic freedom and learning.

      Ugh.

      • Ben Loory says:

        and what did he say to all of that? did he understand? did he think it was weird?

        • Quenby Moone says:

          I wasn’t sure after I read your comment, so I asked him. Remember, it’s pretty hard for kids to contextualize or take themselves out of their own head and think about the implications or condemnation of anything but themselves. He didn’t think it was weird that a school, a bastion of learning was not welcoming of his Nazi drawing, or the word for that matter. What he said was that he was embarrassed about it. “It was a stupid mistake,” he said, just like a grownup riding themselves for something.

          Which, if you get down to it, is the really depressing part.

        • Ben Loory says:

          oh, i don’t know, that seems to mean that he’s already somewhat cognizant of the insanity of the world. which i guess is good. this whole story makes me really glad i don’t have kids, though. must just be heartbreaking all the time. (that is, when it’s not a complete joy.)

  8. Mende Smith says:

    This little guy is probably on the Autistic Spectrum–fascinating and many more of these little guys are born everyday to unsuspecting and highly literate parents…I betcha he’s an Aspie.

  9. Richard Cox says:

    The only thing that ever makes me want to have children is reading stories like this or experiencing them first hand, where sharp and malleable kid brains try to make sense of life’s absurdities and confusions. It’s fascinating in one way and depressing in another.

    Thanks for sharing, Quenby. I always love your posts.

    • Quenby Moone says:

      It’s fascinating in one way and depressing in another.

      Just like parenting itself!

      I used to waffle about the kid thing, but after a while I realized that I wanted to do something greater than me, and I have to admit I don’t know how impoverished my life would be without him, but he’s the great light of my life.

      It’s the hardest, most complicated part of my life, but the brightest and most rewarding.

  10. Erika Rae says:

    Can my 7-year-old marry your 7 year old? I mean, you know, if they don’t turn out to be gay or anything. Which would be fine, of course. I’ve already met and approved heartily of your mother. And you’re pretty awesome. I dunno, maybe we could skip the suspense and WE could get married. If things with the husbands ever go south, that is. Not that WE’RE gay or anything. But of course, if we were, it’d be fine. I know how to clean a peanut butter jar out with hot soapy water. I really didn’t intend for that last bit to sound as dirty as it did. I blame Gloria.

    • Quenby Moone says:

      This totally sounds like an arranged marriage, but I’m all for bringing back tradition! For that matter, it could save me from the misery of watching his fumbling romantic missteps and heartaches, so it’s a win-win!

      I’ve already met and approved heartily of your mother.
      And though very few people on this site know how funny this is, I do, and it’s probably the most hilarious line in this thread! I will let her know that she’s already an arranged mother-in-law.

      But we could get married! Zara and Megan did it; we could all have a thing, like the Moonies but with a bunch of writers all pontificating and trying to outdo each others’ vows. It could be a poetry slam/marriage ceremony/book signing! It will be GREAT!

      I don’t know if I can move back to Colorado though. Too dry.

  11. Judy Prince says:

    Good work, QB. I thought your explanation to Milo was excellent and doubtless helped him to understand the parent’s and teacher’s reactions to his drawing.

    Few situations are harmed by more information. That’s one of my mantras.

    Milo strikes me as an observer/analyst, so he’s stoked for more information. Great to be around people like him!

    I’m gonna paste in brief descrips of 2 great USAmerican schools (I’d pasted them in to a comment on another TNB story). They sound like places Milo would like:

    1) Science Leadership Academy (grades 9-12) Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

    A magnet school that uses few print textbooks, the students create their own resources with course management software and a “learning by doing” method; for example, a Spanish teacher guided an analysis of films depicting conflicts in South America: Her students identified on-screen human-rights violations and then compiled their findings on a school website.

    2) Minnesota New Country School (grades 6-12) Henderson, Minnesota

    At this rural school, opened in 1994, students create the curriculum and choose the advisers who will guide them on their projects at MNCS’s faculty-run cooperative of 100 students and 7 “advisers” (the preferred term for “teachers”). After morning large-group discussions of news and expectations for the week, students disperse to work at their own pace, sometimes spending hours in the computer corner, woodworking shop or art studio, and so on. Only math classes are communal, taught in groups of 15, and a 45-minute period each day is set aside for reading. The school’s model has been replicated in more than 50 locations, and the Department of Education has lauded the school for its success in closing the achievement gap. Some students travel as much as 100 miles a day, round-trip, to attend.

    ——————

    • Quenby Moone says:

      It’s really funny to see Milo so engrossed in a book that he can’t hear me when I talk to him. It used to bug the crap out of me when my father did it; now I find it endearingly annoying in my own son. Apple—->Tree.

      So yes, he’s hungry for knowledge and some of these schools sound great. MINNESOTA? I would really have to love the school to be that cold in the winter. But if his brain keeps chugging along in the way it is–we’ll definitely have to keep our options open.

      • Judy Prince says:

        Oh yes, Tree, when folks are engrossed in a book, it’s almost always good to silently clap your hands in magnificent applause!

        Having escaped, after retirement, the midwest winters (and super-hot summers!), I soooo understand your wish not to go there. The Minnesota New Country School does have 50 locations replicating it. Maybe the Dept of Education could hip you to the other locations which might be nationwide.

        Have you sussed Montessori schools? They’re pricey but awesome. My grandtwins are for the second year (now in first grade) in a terrific charter school in L.A. They love it totally and each of them has quite distinct talents and preferences.

        I’d thought to yank my son out of public school when he was quite young and put him in a Catholic school which in those years was the only option. Thank goodness, his father refused to allow it, bcuz after my first trip to the school I got a nervous tic with the authoritarian set-up. Yet I know that some kids love it and thrive on it.

        Like Milo, I think, my son eventually got hooked on studying a language at a nearby school which had a Spanish language teacher (for 3rd graders); he found a nice niche with her which made the experience very much worthwhile. He underwent a relatively unenlightening two years in middle school, so when it came to high school, he quietly arranged to take entrance tests and interviews with the west-side magnet public high school in Chicago (about 10 years after Michelle Obama attended it), which was a fine experience, especially in its excellent interracial mix of students and faculty. His group of debaters even won a statewide competition, the coach a truly wonderful human being and motivator/teacher.

    • Jessica Blau says:

      Ah love that mantra: “Few situations are harmed by more information.”

      And, yes, I agree that your explanation to Milo was great.

      Love the name, MILO, too!

  12. I’m so sorry to hear that you’re having to explain yucky things about censorship for no good reason to your child. I have caught myself whispering to my husband certain anxiety-in-others-triggering words around my four-year-old son, and it annoys me every time. I think it’s silly. It sounds like you handled it really well, and I may be referencing this piece for advice, should we ever be in a similar situation.

    Your son sounds like a brilliant boy, and I can’t wait to see what flavor of brilliant young man he becomes as he grows up. What a cool kid. I really enjoyed reading about him.

    • Quenby Moone says:

      Don’t you hate that when you catch yourself doing the whispering thing? It’s so disappointing. I’m a grownup, dammit! I should be able to say the word Nazi without being thought of as one, or have my kid pointed out to his teacher in class by some concerned parent!

      I can’t tell if I’m more annoyed by the implications of “political correctness” or the busybodiness of the whole event. Moralizing snoopy parents making snap judgments about something that doesn’t concern them.

      BAH!

      Thanks for reading, though. I love hearing from the other parents because it makes me feel not quite so alien.

  13. Ronlyn Domingue says:

    What a pleasure it was to read about an intellectually curious child and parents who encourage his insatiable interests.

    Too bad the teacher didn’t recognize the “teachable moment” inherent in what your son did. Instead of trying to suppress and pathologize the mention of Nazis, she had a chance to talk to him–maybe even other children–about the subject. Or would that have invited a city-wide shit storm?

    For whatever reason, as part of my research on Novel #2, I read about children’s experiences in the Holocaust. A couple of examples that stand out… I NEVER SAW ANOTHER BUTTERFLY is a collection of drawings and poems created by children at Theresienstadt. I found THE DIARY OF PETR GINZ by accident–which contain diary excerpts, short pieces of writing, and art work by this talented boy who was imprisoned at Theresienstadt and later died at Auschwitz.

    • Quenby Moone says:

      You know, I have to be fair here. The teacher has talked to me in the aftermath, and she’s okay. She knows that Milo is a kid whose curiosity runs from the interesting to the completely arcane. She felt she had to raise the subject with us because the other parent was sort of hysterical about it. This is coming clear in the days following–but it certainly wasn’t clear when I wrote this post. That’s the problem with internet immediacy. Facts changing to make a less charged situation.

      However, having exonerated my son’s teacher I will say this: the parent who became hysterical about my son’s drawing had no jurisdiction to become so. The same truth of knee-jerk reactions about things applies as much as when I wrote it, and I’ve experienced it in other situations. People love to moralize where there is no moral.

      The truth is, whatever issues this parent raised about my son’s drawing caused far more harm than it helped. First, there was no wrong done, and now my son feels embarrassed about it, doesn’t know what he can and can’t talk about in school, and feels like he did something wrong, no matter our assurances to the contrary. Second, what business was it of hers anyway? She’s not teaching the class; the teacher admitted that when she saw the drawing that was causing the fuss she just shrugged and knew it was Milo being Milo. The parent has no context, no history with him, doesn’t see him on a daily basis; how can she be so impertinent to think she should call him out to the teacher?

      This sort of petty mischief in the guise of being a concerned citizen enrages me. It’s not the first time it’s raised my hackles and I’m sure it won’t be the last. The shrapnel from this one event is going to take a long time to remove.

      • Ronlyn Domingue says:

        Thanks for the clarification. I’m sorry Milo was so rattled by this (I would have been, too, if that had been me). He’s lucky to have an understanding teacher, even if she wasn’t able to thwart the hysteria from the parent.

        I had parents who backed me up at times when I’d speak out or stand up for myself. Keep doing the same for your son.

  14. Alison Aucoin says:

    My godson is from the same tribe as your Milo. Kids of this ilk are so DAMN AWESOME! His peacenik parents are blessedly supportive if occasionally befuddled. They recently moved to a new city mid school year. The public school to which they would be assigned is quite troubled. They had little choice but to put him in Catholic school. I’m sure you’re not surprised when I say it’s not going very well..

    • Quenby Moone says:

      “Occasionally befuddled…” HA! Welcome to my world! My world consists almost entirely of “occasionally befuddled!” Hilarious.

      The situation of your godson sounds positively depressing. It’s a familiar tale here in Portland, and we’re lucky that we got Milo into a really great magnet school. His district school is good, but we didn’t think it would be challenging enough for him so we opted to have his mind blown by learning Japanese. He took to it like a duck….

      Anyway, the options in many places for kids like these are so woefully inadequate–and the Catholic school option is probably the lesser of evils, but a hard choice to make. I’m sure it’s a hard thing for everyone. I really hope your godson finds his niche and the school works out. Or that another better option reveals itself.

  15. Milo sounds like a curious delightful little boy with an insatiable desire to learn. who can fault that? with parents like you and your husband he will surely never lose this desire… just wait until he can fully articulate for himself when a teacher challenges him later in life ( and one surely will) he’s going to be fantastic! Go Milo!

    • Quenby Moone says:

      Damn. If he gets any more articulate, I’m going to have to go back to school.

      I seriously can’t wait to see his unfolding. I mean I can, you know, because I want to savor his unbelievable sweet seven-ness, and his eight-ness, but yeah. It’s going to be awesome.

  16. Zara Potts says:

    Thank you for introducing us to Milo with this story, what a charming boy he must be!

    I am so curious as to what the picture of the fire with a nazi on top of it was all about.. I am endlessly fascinated with how children see the world. It seems in some ways they see it in a totally literal way, but they also have access to pure imagination which colours and enhances their days.

    I totally agree with your comment here:

    “This sort of petty mischief in the guise of being a concerned citizen enrages me. It’s not the first time it’s raised my hackles and I’m sure it won’t be the last. The shrapnel from this one event is going to take a long time to remove.”

    Some people have nothing better to do than cause trouble and it really pisses me off. I hate how people feel they can rush to judgement or offense and criticise someone else’s child for no other reason than just plain, ugly mischief making.

    As always, Quenby, you write so well. So engrossing and full of spirit and life. I love your work and I am really looking forward to more adventures with Milo.

    • Quenby Moone says:

      So between you and Simon raising the question, “What WAS the picture about?” I asked him. I also told him that I wrote a story about him and that lots of people were interested in the whole Nazi event and he was pleased that it seemed to have evolved into something that didn’t make him feel like a chump.

      It is with great delight that I deliver the story of the drawing: “Two American fire fighters were called to the building to fight a fire but when they get there it’s just a Nazi who’s trying to sabotage the building. So they don’t save him.”

      Now I’m not nearly the American Patriot that Simon is, but it makes a mama proud to have her son get all patrioty. Plus, he used the word “sabotage” correctly. I tell you, it makes a grown woman so proud.

      (I think he’s upstairs reading Harry Potter by flashlight right now, and I’m pretending I don’t know he’s doing it because the suspense is killing him and he’ll just stay awake all night anyway. Bookworms. I love them.)

  17. Simon Smithson says:

    In my head, he finished the drawing and said ‘Nazis. I hate these guys.’

  18. D.R. Haney says:

    I was (apparently) a lot like Milo at seven, though I was interested in pre-modern wars: the Civil War, the Revolutionary War, and any (American) Indian war. I later became fascinated with the Bolshevik Revolution, too. Oh, and at six, I could recite all of the presidents in order. I inflicted that list on many a grownup, I’m afraid.

    One of the things that I find so annoying, if not outrageous, about America’s latter-day intolerance of the kind you’ve posted about here is how facile it is. It’s hard for me to imagine an American in the late 1940s reacting as Milo’s teacher did (or the parent, or whatever), even with the wounds of the war fresh in memory. What I can imagine is an American reacting with horror to a child refusing to pledge allegiance to the flag, or announcing herself an atheist, and I could be wrong, but I don’t think either of those scenarios would result in any particular brouhaha in Portland in 2011 (unless at a Christian school), where they would have sixty years ago by way of demonstrating moral integrity according to the fashion of the day. Now the fashion has changed — and I wish more people would recognize that, yes, it’s exactly that, a fashion, and a self-serving one at that. Moral integrity isn’t purchased as easily as reacting with indignation at the very mention of an offending idea. But I’m going too step down from the soapbox, seeing that I’m getting a cold and so can’t phrase myself as well as I would like. My brain’s a bit frozen.

    • Quenby Moone says:

      My brain’s a bit frozen.

      You and me both apparently. I would explain the series of events which led me to write this reply three separate times, but just that alone should indicate the level of dottiness with which I’m (not) functioning.

      But it has occurred to me too that this whole thing is such a product of our time. On the one hand people have brought hypersensitivity to a high art, while on the other, rudeness is epidemic. It’s like everything else in our increasingly polarized America; people only pay attention to the poles and neglect the 98% of what lies in between them.

      I remember a similar complaint when I used the word “niggardly” in a sentence. Of course someone jumped all over me. It was to be expected I suppose. Not because it’s not a perfectly fine word, but people don’t know what the hell it means any more.

      And this seems to be part and parcel with the hypersensitivity: there’s a sort of ignorance that informs it that really pisses me off. If you have a problem with my son writing the word Nazi, do you know why you have a problem with it? My guess if the parent scratched the surface they would be surprised because they didn’t really know why they were upset. I would challenge them to clarify their complaint, suspecting that s/he would come up wanting.

      Just like someone who complains about me using the word “niggardly” in a sentence.

  19. Darian Arky says:

    Sort of an unexpected n-word problem. Perhaps the teacher would have preferred National Socialist Workers’ Party member. Indeed, it’s quite important that young people understand just who and what the Nazis were, because it seems far too many of us adults have played fast and loose with the label for far too long in our political rhetoric. There’s certainly no harm in starting out with stick Nazis.

    • Quenby Moone says:

      First off, I have to tip my hat to the most awesome name in the world. I’ve seen your name written numerous times and thought, “THAT is an awesome name.” This is from someone who, probably like yourself, gets all sorts of mangled botch-jobs performed in pronunciation.

      Anyway, you’re right, and I think this is a part of what I was trying to form in my response to Duke up there—-^. The whole Godwin’s law thing, and a general sense that you can call anyone you really hate a Nazi, because it’s been so utterly separated from its history. Palin isn’t a Nazi, she’s an fame-happy, ignorant buffoon, but people resort to sloppy and easy language rendering the word Nazi (and its historicity) meaningless.

      But it does a disservice to everyone. I hope that the “return to civility” which Obama pleaded for becomes a reality–I would really like to see people like Glenn Beck out of a job–but I’m banking on networks to keep running the shows with people like him on it because it’s the only reliable revenue stream for them. People love spectacle more than civility. How else to account for the success of shows like the Jersey Shore and Housewives of God-Knows-Where?

  20. Matt says:

    Like Duke, Milo reminds me of myself at that age, though my emphasis was on natural history instead of the human sort (a disdainful pfft! for the Puny Humans was about all you’d get out of me in those days). I want to ask him what he thinks of the scavenger/hunter T-Rex debate.

    What I find really sad about this is that not only did your son draw a picture with a Nazi in it, he also perfectly illustrated a moral conundrum. What a great, great launchpad into a lesson on ethics, morals, and civic responsibility. What a sad thing that the opportunity was hijacked by the meddlesome Morality Police, so no one learns anything but shame and embarrassment.

    • Quenby Moone says:

      It’s interesting, right, when you scratch the surface of the image? And then the tableau opens up in your mind and it makes sense! Possibly more sense than I’m able to make out of things. It’s truly a wasted opportunity.

      I’m not sure that you could have the desired conversation about T-Rex though. Dinosaurs make him nervous. He would want to hire the RAF Spitfire to bomb T-Rex so he didn’t have to worry about being hunted.

      (I actually tried to break his nervousness about dinos by pointing out that our (past-tense) chickens looked awfully like T-Rex and that T-Rex was really an overgrown chicken. He wasn’t convinced.)

  21. Nathaniel Missildine says:

    I don’t know why people still don’t seem to understand that forbidding the very utterance of a word only increases its power to hurt. But this could get into a whole rant. The real point is your son sounds delightful.

    We even live on the soil where it happened, but I think if I asked my seven-year old daughter what the French Revolution was she would respond with a confused “Quoi?” As for more recent history, she’s got a vague idea of Nazis as the reason for all the monuments that say libération around here. This comes possibly as a result of this country’s much more personal side-stepping of the issue. From this perspective, you’d think at least Americans wouldn’t need to treat their long-vanquished enemies with such kid gloves.

    • Quenby Moone says:

      That whole Vichy government thing is a little sticky, I suppose. I know that it’s tough to look too deeply at one’s navel when one’s navel is partially responsible for lots of misery and suffering. (I like the idea of cruel navels. I think one of us should write a story about it!) We’re still not quite sure what to do with the pre-Civil War period (also known less colloquially as “slavery” so I can appreciate that.) here in the states so I get it.

      It’s a shame about the French Revolution though. Even though it was a bloodbath, it was also the foundation of the Republic which is pretty damned important. I hate to be one of those boobs who rants about the quality of education, but I admit it gives me pause that people don’t know their own history anymore. Or anyone else’s, either. But I have to give people credit where credit is due because there are people like my son and my husband who just teach themselves what they want to know. I belatedly recognized the importance of history so I’m a little spotty in areas. But now I’m fairly voracious–and find it more interesting than most other subjects.

      I don’t know how we make kids recognize the relevance of it. It just can’t compete with iPhone’s.

  22. dann says:

    So this child has no imagination?

  23. leigh says:

    rock on milo…

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