I used to watch nature shows. This was in the days of yore, when it was all on channel 13 and featured men with soothing voices narrating everything. Things may have changed; we're too cheap to get cable so I don't know.
A repeating image I recollect in almost all of them was the dying of the young. The soothing-voiced men would say, "How many of their young will make it to adulthood?" or "Only a very few will ever make this journey…" and then they would show the baby turtle or orangutan or okapi not reaching the water's edge or being eaten by a predator or falling out of the nest, and you would feel terrible.
Except I always sort of felt relief. Relief at not being in an unlucky group of animals where 90% would die before ever growing up. Because we, it felt like the whole message of the show was—were basically not like that. The vast majority of us would make it to adulthood, unscathed.
If this wasn't intentionally the message it sent out, it was surely the message I brought with me and held onto. Somehow. Maybe it was just the happy naive stupidity of a kid born into a rich country. Maybe I'm just a bit dim that way. Whichever.
I still hold onto that happy, desperate denial. Except that now I have children. And it gets harder and harder. They grow bigger and bigger, and come home from school with crazier and crazier stories, and I just can't bear the reality that some of those little turtles won't make it down to the water's edge.
So I have exactly the wrong reaction. Case in point: Wintergirls.
I know this book is probably excellent. And in some distant part of how I know I ought to be, I realize that reading about things like anorexia and cutting—things that scare the living crap out of me when they are mentioned near my girls—must be helpful to kids. Somehow. Except that I also know that kids romanticize trouble. And they get ideas from books. And if they see Bart Simpson making fart noises with his mouth, they will make fart noises with their mouths. Who wouldn't? And I sort of want to lock them away in a room reading nothing but Anne of Green Gables, where the worst trouble you can get into comes from having too much imagination and being afraid to walk home alone across the moor.
What gets to me is that I wrestled with this already. Should she read Speak? And then, a week or two ago, she came up to me with a smile, half shy half triumphant, and said, "Oh, by the way Mommy, I read Speak." She liked it. It was interesting. She was compelled. And it was no big deal; it made sense somehow.
But this is different, somehow. Why? I don't know. Because a friend's 13-year-old is currently struggling with depression. Because another 13-year-old is struggling with bulimia and cutting. And when I hear those things I want to vanquish that crap from the world, to create an alternate world where I will live where that crap isn't allowed to exist.
But of course it does exist. And thank God that there are books for those lonely girls to read and know that they're not so alone. And that everyone is a mess. And that there is some hope, somewhere.
But I think of all those little turtles trying to make it back down to the water. And it's unbearable to think that any of them don't make it.