The Discovery of Cruelty

by Site Author

Each morning, we take our three-year-old daughter to pre-school. For a few hours, she plays with a half-dozen classmates, and then she comes back home.

One day last month, she came home deeply upset. One of her classmates, Liv, had said something mean to her.

“Do you know what Liv said to me?” My daughter asked. “She said, ‘go home, and take a nap, and never come back!’ That’s what she said. That’s something a witch would say!”

Over the next week, my daughter told the story over and over again: to me, to my wife, to our parents, to our friends. Each time, she used the exact same words, telling the story the exact same way.

It was the first time she had ever encountered meanness—the first time in her entire life. And the meanness confounded her.

Elizabeth Stone wrote that having a child is like having “your heart go walking around outside your body.” And the meaning of that quotation is starting to dawn on me. My poor daughter has discovered cruelty. And, sadly, this wont be the last time that she’ll face it. She’ll encounter other cruelty, and, on occasion, she’ll probably be cruel herself.

I wish I could shield her from all of this. At the very least, it would have been nice for the discovery to come later in her life. But it came now, at the age of three.