My older daughter’s school recently took a field trip to the Museum of Tolerance in LA. When she brought home the permission slip, I almost didn’t want to sign it. She’s a sensitive girl—the sort who has nightmares when she sees a scary movie—for example, Finding Nemo. I can relate; I still shudder when I think of that barracuda (spoiler alert!) snapping up Nemo’s mom and siblings.
I’m not trying to shelter her from the horrors of the Holocaust, or the reality of hatred in the world today. She’s read the diary of Anne Frank. Twice. We’ve talked—in oblique terms—about the situation in Darfur, and in not-so-oblique terms about the history of slavery and racism in the U.S.
But the Museum of Tolerance, I feared, would be a little too…real. I want her to learn, but I don’t want her to be scarred. So I showed her the Museum’s website, and I talked a little about my concerns, and I left the decision up to her. Ultimately, she decided to go. Her friends were going, and if she didn’t go, she would have had to stay home (Oh! The horror!) and do homework (salt, meet wound).
The day came, and she said she would text me when they got back. Around the time they were due, I got a text:
Her: We’re late! Just passed exit 20!
Me: Exit 20 where?
Her: How should I know???
Me: Do you have any idea how far away you are, time-wise?
Her: IDK! Just passed Fairway Dr!
Me: WHAT CITY?
Me: Next time you pass a sign with a city name on it, tell me what it is.
Her: K. We’re by Walgreens.
Me: Which Walgreens?
Her: Not in Temecula.
Me: Just tell me when you’re near the school.
Note to self: Forget the Museum of Tolerance, she needs to spend some time with a basic streetmap. Two hours later, she got home. I picked her up at the school. She threw herself into the car with a huge sigh.
Me: Wellllllllll….How was it?
Her: It was awful.
I immediately regretted letting her go. I knew she was too sensitive for this! I should have listened to my maternal instincts! Trust your gut, I reminded myself. But then she interrupted my self-flagellation.
Her: The bus ride took forever! And halfway back it was already dark and you couldn’t even see anyone to talk to them. And someone had the genius idea that we should save time at the museum by eating on the bus! So then everyone was eating on the bus in the dark and making a giant mess and it was so loud I couldn’t even hear anyone so then the next thing you know, I was shouting just so I could be heard over everyone else who was shouting and now my throat is sore and it’s late and I STILL HAVE HOMEWORK!
Me: Welllll, How was the Museum?
Her: Meh. It was OK, I guess.
Huh. Apparently I had underestimated the power of adolescence to dull the sensitivity receptors. I wasn’t sure whether to be relieved (at least she’s not scarred!) or disappointed (really? It’s the Museum of Tolerance and you’re more upset about the horrors of the bus ride?).
I let it go.
Two days later, we were in the car on our way to school. I had just dropped off her younger sister, so she and I were alone. Suddenly, from the back seat, she said, “You know? I think the most powerful thing at the Museum was when they had us walk down this hallway that was like the hallway the people had to walk down before they went into the gas rooms. And then we ended up sitting in this room that looked like a gas room. And they played a video about what it was like for people. And I felt almost like I couldn’t breathe.”
I was stunned for a moment, but mustered a weak, “That must have been really difficult.”
“I know, right? And we heard these stories about these people who had survived, and they saw their families killed, and one woman was in the hospital and went to see her baby but they were throwing the babies out of the window into a big ditch and burying them. And then they started shoving all of the women from the hospital out into this ditch and then just shooting them. And this one woman hid under the bodies so they thought she was dead but she was really alive.”
“Yeah. I just don’t know how someone lives through something like that and then goes on living.”
“A lot of people committed suicide after the Holocaust because the memories were too much,” I mentioned.
“Yeah. They talked about that. And then, in another exhibit about bullying, they talked about this one girl who met some guy online and then he broke up with her and so she committed suicide.”
My heart was pounding throughout this entire exchange. I felt like I was trying to sneak in an open window that might slam shut on me at any moment. I wanted to say something profound but all I could think was, “Don’t screw up.”
Since I’d lost my script, I had to ad lib. We talked for a while…about depression, and suicide, and online dating, and cyber-bullying, and domestic violence. I tried very hard not to screw up, and I think—at least in that—I succeeded.
And then we were at her school. She opened the door and jumped out of the car, rushing off to meet up with her friends.