William Tell



The other day, my daughter and I were driving in the car. As always, I had the radio tuned to a classical music station. A particularly distinctive piece of music came on.

My daughter asked, “What is that song Mummy?”

After a very brief pause, I blurted out, “William Tell. The William Tell Overture. It’s a very famous piece of music. Do you like it?”

“Yes,” she replied.

I was amazed. Not because she had said that she liked it, but because I had almost instantly responded to her question. How did I know that piece of music was the William Tell Overture? Where in my mind did that fact reside? Who had ever told me the name of that composition?

I admit that I became obsessed over this momentary exchange. It fascinated me because it pointed directly to a continuation of knowledge; a knowledge that I didn’t even know existed within me. I began to think that there must be tons of facts within my brain that were put there, by who or what? My mother, my father, my teacher, the school, the establishment, the media?

I realised, that I am who I am because of what I know and think, but only a tiny fraction of those two parts come out at one time. Like in that moment when my ear heard a sound, and my brain named it. At all other times, the fact that I can recognize and name the William Tell Overture by Rossini, is not at the forefront of my being. People do not see me walking down the street and think: Hey, there goes that woman, who knows about the William Tell Overture, but knowing that fact is an integral part of me. It shapes who I am and that scares me. It scares me because if that is true for me then it is true for everyone else, including my daughter. I realise that there are so many layers to a person, and those layers are built up from the time we are born by those around us. For my daughter, I am one of those around her, and I have a responsibility and choice as to what I pass on to her.

It is fairly innocuous to know about classical music or cars. Knowing how to knit a sweater is not going to affect anyone other than the person wearing it. Knowing how to make beef stew, is not going to set you apart from the millions of others who know how to make beef stew. Most knowledge passed onto me from the adults in my young life, was benign, harmless stuff, but it was still stuff that made me who I am today. And what about the other stuff? The negative stuff?

I remember our family going over for dinner to my godparent’s house. I have no idea how old I was, but I am betting that I was around 8 or 9. After dinner, I found myself alone in the TV room, everyone else was busy doing something else, so I turned on the TV and watched a movie. That movie was The Shining and it scared the bejesus out of me! To this day, I can remember that elevator, the twins, the blood. The naked woman in the bath. The crazy man with the hatchet following his son around in a maze of snow. I think I probably had nightmares for ages after that. Yes, I know what a lot of you are thinking: What were my parents doing letting me watch that? I do not blame my parents. They were having fun playing a board game or something and, hey, this was the early 80’s when things were much different. People weren’t sitting at their kitchen tables blogging about the continuation of knowledge and musing about the effects of childhood memories. In a way, it was a more innocent time, which was good, but also not good…if you get what I mean.

Nowadays, we are bombarded by information on how to raise our children. We learn about mental and emotional health in addition to physical health. We are much more educated about what not to do, so our children don’t have nightmares for years after watching an age-inappropriate horror film. That said, it doesn’t see to help me one bit, in fact it terrifies me.

Thoughts, feelings and facts are food, and what I feed my daughter will either make her grow big and strong or shrivel up and die. Yes, that is how I feel about it. Imparting facts are easy. One plus one is two. The sky is blue. Here is how you tie your shoe. The other stuff is difficult. No, you shouldn’t yell. Yes, Mummy does yell sometimes, but only when you are being really, really bad, and won’t listen, and she loses her temper. Yes, that little boy shoved you at the playground, but you shouldn’t shove him back, because you shouldn’t hurt other people, even though he hurt you. When I write it down like that, it all sounds like a jumbled mess. The stuff beyond facts is completely subjective. People yell. I yell sometimes. Should I yell, no, but I still do it, just like that little boy at the park who shouldn’t shove but does. Even leading by example isn’t cut and dry, because I, like everyone else on this planet, is not perfect.

It is all so subconscious and confusing, and I feel like I am confusing her most of the time. When you add that to exposing her regularly to two cultures it gets even more complicated. When I am back in Canada, as much as I sometimes feel like a stranger in my homeland, I also feel that every makes sense, because I share a continuation of knowledge with all of my contemporaries. Its like this. Our parents shared the same knowledge which they passed down to us. The time and place we grew up in did the same. We all went to similar schools and had similar experiences. Our version of right and wrong, true and false was the same and remains so. When my daughter and I are in Canada, that is what she learns. When she is in Turkey she learns something different.

Each time my daughter arrives at her Montessori school in Canada, the teacher instructs her to take off her outdoor shoes and put on her school shoes; to hang up her coat and to go join the other kids. In her pre-school in Turkey, I drop her off at the door and the teaching assistant, sits her down, takes off her shoes and puts on her other shoes. She then leads her down the hallway where she takes off her coat,  hangs it and her backpack up on a hook, before taking her into the classroom.

After my daughter started her school in Turkey, she began to behave differently at home. She would come home and ask me to take off her shoes, to take her to the bathroom, to find her crayons. All things of which she is capable and expected to do herself. I had to really work with her to undo this behavioral regression, but then I had to admit that it wasn’t her fault. There was no continuation of knowledge here. There was no consistency in behaviour expected of her. In Turkey, children are mollycoddled and served. In Canada, they are empowered to learn and grow beyond their capabilities.

We all want to think they we are independent beings, that we are individuals distinct from each other and largely autonomous, but we are fooling ourselves. We are the sum of many parts that we have internalised – good and bad. We learn how to be ourselves through many years of being taught thoughts, facts and feelings. We become what we see around us. We become what we are taught about what we see around us. For considerate parents like me, it is a humbling and mortifying thought. I do not want to screw this little person up. I want her to be able to hear the William Tell Overture and name it. I want her to be able to tie her shoe. I want her to be her own distinct person as much as that is possible. However, there are so many other forces besides myself that want to press their truth upon her and I do not know if I can singularly beat those forces back. She cannot grow up in a bubble.

We were back in the car today, this time being driven by my father-in-law. When he replaced me in the driver’s seat he turned on the car and started down the road. He adjusted the seat and fastened the seat belt behind him. He would never wear one. He locked his eyes ahead and navigated the road. He turned on the radio and Mozrt was playing. He left it for a few minutes and then switched it to another station. I noted this. It is not that he didn’t like the music. He didn’t have a reference point to enjoy it. He is not one of the points in the continuation of knowledge of classical music. To his ears it was strange and inaccessible. To my ears it was heaven. To my daughter’s ears it was a curiosity that she has yet to decide to embrace or not, and this is the crux of the matter. I can try to control her environment and only teach her what I think is right and good, but she will decide what to hold onto; what to remember. I guess my heart will have to find peace in that, as easily as my mind can find a piece of music.

Still, I wonder.  In 40 years’ time, will she be driving down the road in her car with her child in the back?  Will the radio be tuned to a classical music station?  Will the strains of the William Tell Overture drift out of it?  Will she remember them?  Will she remember the name her mother gave to her, just as her mother remembered it as given to her before?  I don’t know, but I hope so, because if I am honest, then no matter where I might be at that moment, I will be a continuation.  A continuation in part of my daughter’s being.  She will remember not just the name of a piece of music, but me.





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