I say, we good Presbyterian Christians should be charitable in these things, and not fancy ourselves so vastly superior to other mortals, pagans and what not, because of their half-crazy conceits on these subjects. There was Queequeg, now, certainly entertaining the most absurd notions about Yojo and his Ramadan; – but what of that? Queequeg thought he knew what he was about, I suppose; he seemed to be content; and there let him rest. All our arguing with him would not avail; let him be, I say: and Heaven have mercy on us all – Presbyterians and Pagans alike – for we are all somehow dreadfully cracked about the head, and sadly need mending.

Chapter 17, The Ramadan

When my boys were young they fell to playing good guys/bad guys..  One of my parenting vows was to stop this mindset before it got a foothold.

“There is no such thing as bad guys. There are only guys who make bad choices.” I told them.

Fell on deaf ears.  So I revised.

“Look, a person is neither a good person nor a bad person.  There are people who make bad choices that come from, well, from being dreadfully cracked about the head, and okay, yeah  there are a few really bad choices that. . .let’s face it. . .you have to be a pretty bad person to make.  So, if you must play these games, that’s fine.  I just ask that you please stop generalizing the bad guys.”

Blank looks.

“They have to be Janjaweed.”

Pause.  They both are staring at my face.  It is the six year old speaks first.

“OK. . .What’s a Janjaweed?”

Hmmmm, checking, checking, am I having an unfiltered parenting moment–how much information do they need?

They do not need to know this now.

They are six and four.

I revise:

“Or poachers. They can be poachers.  Poachers are bad people.”  Oh, yes, bingo, good parenting moment.  They got that one.  But then they throw my perfect moment.

“How about Nazis?”

Pause. Weighing.  The cultural weight.  How true is it–there are no bad people only people who made bad choices.  The Klan.  Al Qaeda, The Crusaders.  Slippery slope?  Mob mentality?

Was Nanking some kind of messed up group think “Ooops–that was a bad choice.”?

I don’t think so.

I think evil exists.

Still,evil is bigger than the individual.  Even the Uni bomber had his reasons–demons that grew from seeds planted in his belly by others.

Maybe we should let kids play good guy/bad guy and not turn it into a lecture.  Maybe a child needs to believe that all evil is on the other side and that hey can defeat it–just by being good.  . .

But the danger,

the danger of righteousness.

Did playing cowboys and Indians give us a greater understanding when it came time to apologize for the Trail of Tears.

Did we ever apologize for the Trail of Tears?

There is some evil in us all, call it what you will, but do not disown it.  And call it by it’s name.  If you cannot find its name, be careful about calling it evil.

“Yes. The bad guys can be Nazis—BUT ONLY—-because you do understand they looked in peoples eyes and still could not see the humanity.”

“Okay Mom.”

Yes, this is how I parent.  It is how I was parented. It’s kinda cracked in the head.

It was August 2005, a get together for classmates entering first grade, graciously hosted at one parent’s home.  One parent’s $24 million dollar home. The valets, yes they have valets, drive nicer cars than I, and they know I know it, as I hand them the key to my mini-van with the rusty dent in the back.  You know they’re thinking “Where the hell are we going to hide this one?”

We gathered there on the one of the lawns (yes, I’m afraid it is plural–the lawn west of the waterfall pool versus the lawn north of the garden walk noted in a NYT articles as “dominated by old statues of dictators collected from fallen regimes.”)  Lenin and Stalin lord over the ivy back there, though Saddam has yet to arrive –the paperwork must be such a headache on that kind of import.  I did find it curious that Mao and Castro are back there as well, as I’m pretty sure their regimes haven’t fallen yet.  But I digress.

The moms stood in the shade of the trellised patio as the boys stormed the play structure which looked like an upscale Pequod docked on the far end of the lawn.  One mother came across the expanse of grass having just checked on our boys collective play.  She closed in on us with a puzzled look,  “The boys are playing good guys versus Nazis—what kid would have started a game like that?”

My green tea may have gone down the wrong tube at that moment, but I managed to swallow before laughing politely and shaking my head

“Those boys–they come up with the darndest games!”