How To Terrify And Educate Your Kids At The Same Time
As a father I’ve never been good at listening to play-by-play re-tellings of Curious George DVDs, or engaging in conversations like, “Which is your favourite princess?” (Pippa Middleton doesn’t count). At these moments a parent mentally looks at his watch and thinks, “Only fourteen more years to go.” But recently we have entered new territory: my six-year-old daughter has become obsessed with history. Apart from the opening phase of fatherhood -- discovering that the creature is actually a person -- this is the best bit so far."Children think like ancient Greeks: violence, magic and superheroes."
It all began with a kindergarten teacher who read the class Greek myths. The kids liked them. When we then started reading the Greeks at bedtime, I used to think, “Gosh, this is improving.” Surely my daughter would soon start demanding the return of Fancy Nancy? But no. The other night she made me read eight of Hercules’s twelve tasks before I finally weaseled out. In part, she’s probably responding to my response: She senses I like this better than Fancy Nancy. A side-benefit is that I’m finally finding out about the Greeks.
Well, I thought, it makes sense. Children think like ancient Greeks: violence, magic and superheroes. And the stories are hard to beat. I mean, the Trojan horse – hot dang! But then we moved onto actual history, and she liked it too. I'm not sure why, but my daughter developed an unhealthy obsession with Napoleon. Many a dinner was spent telling stories of his childhood in Corsica, or his “time out for the rest of his life” (known to historians as “exile”) on St. Helena. Soon my Napoleonic knowledge was exhausted. We proceeded to Henry VIII and his six wives (“Divorced, beheaded, died/Divorced, beheaded, survived”).
I hadn’t wanted to start on World War II at this impressionable age, but the other night we somehow found ourselves watching YouTube footage of Charles de Gaulle walking into occupied Paris in 1944. It was gripping. Suddenly German snipers start firing from the roofs. Parisians are diving to the ground. Not De Gaulle. Next thing he’s at city hall, giving that famous speech: “Paris – liberé!” We’d watched a few minutes when my daughter finally nudged me. “Please stop,” she said. “I’m too nervous.”
Now I’ve identified the perfect historical figure for a six-year-old kid -- and for a 43-year-old father. The Earl of Oxford, the bloke who some people think wrote Shakespeare’s plays, had a lot going on. There were his supposed bisexual exploits in Italy, and the two Dutchmen who were jailed in England for speaking “lewd words of the Earl of Oxford,” and then freed after they said “that they mistook him for the Earl of Westmorland.”
I’ve yet to tell my daughter those bits. Her favourite Oxford story is from the seventeenth-century English diarist, John Aubrey:
The Earl of Oxford, making of his low obeisance to Queen Elizabeth happened to let a Fart, at which he was so abashed and ashamed that he went to travel, seven years. On his return the Queen welcomed him home and said, 'My Lord, I had forgot the Fart.’
My daughter can now recite this almost verbatim. It certainly beats Fancy Nancy.