Sunday, July 24, 2011

Of Gladiators and Geeky Dads

We started over two months ago with a kid’s picture book on ancient Rome. Illustrations of togas and chariots, armored breastplates and aqueducts. We read about citizens and slaves, hairbrushes carved from ivory, and how early school subjects were mathematics, reading, and public speaking.
My girls loved the pictures. We sketched The Forum and families laying on cushions to eat grapes. We laughed how only boys went to school and studied on tablets etched in wax, and girls stayed home and learned accounting and quilt making.
They had questions about slaves. How they were bought and sold and how a human life could be owned. Those were good discussions, years in the classroom helped.
We make Lego Pantheons and Clay Coliseums and practiced being Gladiators, wielding umbrella swords with bedsheets tied around our necks. We fought stuffed lions and raging Dumbo elephants and afterward made speeches to the glory of our deeds.
During bath time we spoke about refrigidariums and public meeting places, laughing about dusty sandals as I squeezed soap between their toes.
Basically, we totally geeked out!
But I knew that was the only way. When we got to the Coliseum my girls started screaming from the back of the taxi, “There it is! There it is!” When we passed the train station and saw the original wall from the First Republic they laughed because they understood.
But of course, their favorite were the Gladiators. They loved the stories of their battle, how their life could be held in the fickle applause or boos from the crowd.
How the mere turning up or down of a thumb could mean life or death, and how they accepted this as law, and how the people in return understood that it was a sacrifice, a blood sacrifice they were making to appease their own lives.
When we got to the Coliseum we toured the grounds and walked around the massive structure. We saw the bullet holes that Napoleon’s canons pierced but could not bring down the walls. We touched the ancient rock and sat for a long time in the shade thinking about what we had learned.
My girls were great. Despite the crowds and the heat and the surging rush of people and merchants and tour guides and locals all vying for position and leverage and escape, we just quietly went about the business of making it real to just us.
I’m proud of us for that. But I’m more proud of this: that I had a plan that came from a book procured from the shelf of a library half the world away, and that made all the difference. Thumb up, Dad! Thumbs up.

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