The 'Big Talk' to My Son About FDR
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
Well, just as nations sometimes find it hard to communicate, so do parents and children. Even the best parents can have problems explaining big topics to their little ones. Moms and dads agonize sometimes for years about the precise wording of `the talk,' whether it's about sex or drugs, death or religion. But could you explain your politics to your child? Writer Kate Krautkramer tried, and she found it challenging.
Miraculously, we make it up our driveway and on to the county road, which is topped with a full foot of untracked snow. Great white waves go up and around the Subaru while I try to explain the basic premises of the New Deal for my six-year-old son, Sarvis(ph).
I've just been telling him about a short trip I took to Washington, DC, for a meeting. While I was there, I visited the FDR Memorial. Sarvis would like to know if he can add Franklin Roosevelt to his mental list of good presidents. It's like his list of constellations, his list of favorite Pokemon and friends he would like to have over for a sledding party. The good president list so far has two names, Washington and Lincoln. Washington only made the cut after my son was convinced he really had wooden teeth.
The president list isn't the only thing on his mind. From his car seat, Sarvis looks out the window for coyotes. The nine-mile drive from home to school is our daily safari. We count deer and elk, hawks, an occasional golden eagle. On a straight section of road, I swerve to miss a jackrabbit and collect my thoughts on FDR. `Well,' I tell Sarvis, `I think Franklin Roosevelt was brave.' I reached desperately into the annals of my high school history memory to explain further. `He cared about poor people,' I say. `He tried to do something to change things in hard times. He called it the New Deal.' While we drive, I go on about the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Civil Conservation Corps.
My son is quiet in thought as we pass the ranches on the road. In one field, sheep huddle together on the ground, snow piling on their woolly backs. In the next, a group of Angus bulls stands in a row, their breath hitting the air in little fits of cloud that hang for a moment then vanish. Finally, Sarvis speaks. `Why is helping poor people brave?' he asks. He's patient through another silence; I let my mind flip through a list of answers. I tell him that a country needs to take care of its people, all of its people. A country that doesn't take care of its people can't be strong.
In the rearview, I see him nod and know he's thinking about something else. `What's it look like?' my son asks. It takes me a second to realize he means the FDR monument we started talking about at the beginning of the drive. I describe for him the expansive outdoor rooms of rock, the waterfall fountains, the bronze figures tucked here and there. `The statues stand for things that Roosevelt did when he was president,' I tell him, but then I get stuck. I think about explaining FDR's wheelchair, or about Eleanor.
I'd like to spout off about sacrifice or the responsibilities of being a leader or what it means to foster a broad consciousness and how those things are represented by space and light in the memorial. But we're almost to school, and the discussion is already too complicated. And my son is only six. `I think they wanted it to look wide and open,' I tell him, `wide and open like this place,' I say, gesturing vaguely out at the sagebrush and the tops of the tall grasses that bend over the snow everywhere for miles.
BRAND: Kate Krautkramer is a writer from Yampa, Colorado.
DAY TO DAY is a production of NPR News with contributions from slate.com. I'm Madeleine Brand.
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