Innocent and naive mean almost the same thing, don’t they? They both mean you have limited exposure to something, but they have vastly different social connotations. Innocence is valued. It is something to be preserved. When you are innocent, it signifies that you are not supposed to know about the things you don’t know about. It is reasonable and worth protecting. Naive, on the other hand, means that you ought to have known the things that you don’t. You have passed the deadline, missed the expiration date on the social knowledge that was so desperately called for in a situation. We parents want our children to stay innocent. But how long is too long? When does “protected” become “sheltered” and “innocent” become “naive?”
Edward came home from camp the other day, telling me some exciting news. His friend was going to give him one thousand dollars at camp the next morning. And even more exciting, he might also bring in another ten thousand dollars, bring the total to $11K. Edward was very excited about receiving this money. He was planning what to do with it when it was in his hands. And I smiled and thought, “ah, he is so innocent.” And if that was the end of the story, I probably wouldn’t be telling you about it. But that wasn’t the end of the story.
In exchange for this money, Edward had already handed over his brand-new, extra-special, not-cheap, light-up fidget spinner that is his new favorite toy. His friend had offered eleven thousand dollars for the thing, and Edward had believed the kid 100%. The fidget spinner was gone, and all I could think was “how could he be so naive?!”
My wife and I sat down with Edward and tried to explain that his 7-year-old friend did not have thousands of dollars, but it was no use. We also told him he had better get that fidget spinner back. But I knew he was not going to get it back. And I knew he was not going to get any money. And the more we told him this, the angrier Edward became, defiantly sure that his friend would never lie to him. He knew he was getting that money.
When he got on the bus the next morning, I told Edward that he had better come home with either the fidget spinner, or $11,000. He smiled and told me he would have the money by the end of the day. As he stepped off the bus that afternoon, I was informed that his friend had forgotten the money, but it would come tomorrow. And also he couldn’t get the toy back anyway, because his friend had already lost it. And I told Edward what was what, and that the toy was gone, and that there was no money, and he did not believe me. At all. And my heart was breaking.
Where is the line? How do I teach my children to love all people, and trust none of them? How do I explain that certain situations need to be treated differently than others? Or does he just need to make his own mistakes, and know that I will be there for him in the tearful aftermath? Because I want to protect him, and sometimes it means protecting him from the world, and other times it means arming him against the world. And how do I know which is which?
I guess I still have time to think about it. Because he got the fidget spinner back. His friend really had immediately lost it, on the bus on the way home, and someone found it after two days, recognized it as Edward’s, and gave it back to him. His friend keeps forgetting the money, but I have told Edward that, when you are selling something, you never give the product away before you get the money in hand. Like at a store. He gets that. It makes sense. He keeps bringing the thing in to camp, but it keeps coming home, and it will keep doing so until the 1st grader across town comes up with $11,000. So yeah, I’ve got some time to think about this.
Was a lesson learned? I don’t know. Is my son more cynical now? I don’t think so. Is he a little teensy bit more aware? Perhaps. So maybe he did learn something. I wish I had learned something. Parenting is hard. I remember before I was a parent, and I had no idea just how hard it was going to be. I sure was
innocent naive something.