Backstory: when I was a tiny Dan, I was living in West Berlin, Germany. Dad was in the army, mom was a stay-at-home mom. There wasn’t a “base” per se, we lived in apartments not far from the Berlin Wall, and as such, were exposed to German language and terms all the time, though almost everyone spoke English.
I don’t know the why of it, but my mom was taking me to a daycare center, a bit of a walk (and maybe even a short train ride) from our apartment. The daycare center was German, and I hadn’t been there before, so I was going into a situation outside my comfort zone.
While we were walking, my mom explained that it was called the “kinderkeller”, and that “kinder” meant “children.” Well, when you’ve got an exceptionally smart four year old on your hands, you should probably explain the whole word, rather than just part of it. Because your outside-his-comfort-zone, socially-awkward kid is probably going to make assumptions about what the other half of that word means.
And thus began the absolute fucking meltdown. I cried, I screamed, I tried to pull away from my mom and run back to the apartment. I even promised that I’d be good from now on, because clearly “keller” meant “killer” and she was taking me to the place where they killed children!
I laugh about it every time it crosses my mind, which is normally about once every five years. (More lately, because I’ve been brainstorming a novel set in Nazi Germany circa 1945.) I never really thought much about the lesson there until this week. Maybe it’s because I have a child of my own now. But the lessons I’m taking away from this are:
- Never make assumptions when communicating with a child.
- More generally, think about the most important part of the message before delivering it. (Already knew this.)
- Some stuff doesn’t need to be communicated. (For someone as verbose as I can be, this is a revelation.)