On Being the Best At Everything Except the Opposite of That

Historical Incidents

So yes. Noah does indeed have strep throat. This is a first for us — no one's ever gotten strep before, so it's exciting! We got a brand-new antibiotic and everything. The never-ending parade of nonstop adventure marches on, as always.

Noah's doctor helpfully taught me how to identify strep on sight (CHECK THE UVULA) just in case ("IN CASE") it stampedes through the rest of our household, and life descends into a revolving door of strep tests, retests and assembly-line antibiotic dosing.

(goes to bathroom to inspect own uvula for the four dozenth time because I can't talk about strep without getting a weird throat tickle)

Yeah. It's been a hell of a week. My one shining moment of decent luck and general getting-cut-a-freaking-break came at the pharmacy, when I was picking up Noah's prescription. After waiting in a line that spanned the entire length of an aisle — it started back at the deodorants and remained a solid back-up of fellow pill-seeking people through hair dye and hosiery — I was LITERALLY the last customer to successfully pay for my prescription before the computer system crashed and the entire pharmacy was left unable to help anyone else. 

I clutched Noah's medicine to my chest and sheepishly retreated down the diaper aisle to avoid the glares of everybody behind me in line, while also resisting the urge to shriek SCREW YOU, THE UNIVERSE OWED ME. LET ME HAVE THIS ONE.

Speaking of Noah, I would like to ask for some advice, Internet. Next week he will be taking a field trip to Mt. Vernon with his school, and he is very, VERY excited about the chance to hang with his old pal George Washington again. 

Noah and george washington

But apparently he's been causing some...confusion at school, as...well. Okay. We were so ridiculously charmed over Noah's excitment about meething his Next Top American Presidential Idol George Washington that I guess we let him run with the whole idea that he'd actually met George Washington. We definitely told him a couple times that it was really an actor, but by that point he was already too far gone with his theory that no, George Washington died but came alive again, because sometimes that happens.

It's true, he says, because he read it in a book. He has sources, you guys! Turns out that the When Dinosaurs Die book we bought him after my dad died covers multiple ideas and beliefs about the afterlife, including reincarnation. Therefore, it doesn't matter what the biographies say, George Washington was reincarnated and spends his days in Williamsburg and Mt. Vernon. FACT. IRREFUTABLE FACT.


We assumed this would be one of those things he'd eventually figure out on his own — like his growing sense that Santa is more of an idea than an actual person — but for now, he remains unshakeably convinced and is arguing with both teachers and peers about it. If anything, the upcoming trip has only strengthened his belief. When I tried to talk to him about the whole "actor" thing, I realized he's also completely confident that everyone will see that he was right all along, once they get to Mt. Vernon. "I'll show them," he mutters. 


Jason and I plan to have one of us chaperone, mostly in hopes of preventing some kind of nuclear meltdown when this belief gets repeatedly challenged — and possibly shattered completely, when/if he sees a different person playing George Washington than the man in his photo. But I have a growing sense that we need to weaken his rigidity over this ahead of time.

So. Um. Any tips on how to gently crush my child's illusions and dreams between now and next Friday? Maybe the Williamsburg George Washington and the Mt. Vernon George Washington can be like, the new Mall Santas, filling in for the real one? Or hey, it's cool if you want to believe that but maybe let's try to keep it to ourselves during the trip and not pick fights with random historical reenactors? A note that reads YO NOAH I'M ACTUALLY DEAD FOR REAL NOW THIS TIME LOVE GEORGE WASHINGTON left under his pillow, tooth-fairy style?  

Other terrible ideas welcomed. This week can suck it. 



Can you e-mail the Mt. Vernon education office and explain your situation? ("This might sound odd, but my son is convinced that you have the real George Washington on payroll.") They might be able to get you the name of the actor who plays the part, and you might be able to use IDMB to find pictures of him in other roles. Noah might still dig in and refuse to admit it's the same person, but it could plant the seed of doubt in his mind ahead of time.


Last time I was at Mt Vernon they didn't have historic reenactors, but that wasn't part of a school field trip...

Or if your family has time you could head down there this weekend with him?

I'd try pulling out the Mall Santa example as well as maybe more detail about the general reincarnation thought process...GW may have been reincarnated, but he wouldn't necessarily know he was GW?

But we still haven't been able to bring home the fact to my daughter that her imaginary brother and sister are, in fact, imaginary. So I'm not sure mine is the advice to follow.

Laura in PA

Emailing Mt. Vernon's not a bad idea. The people playing those characters are not usually equity-type actors who will show up on imdb,though. They're "first-person interpreters" whose work is likely mainly at historic site.

Still, the site may have some experience dealing with this kind of thing and have some ideas about what might help.


If contacting the folks at Mt. V doesn't work out, I have experienced some success with matter-of-factness. Something like: "I hear you when you say you met the real George Washington. On this trip, you will meet an actor playing George Washington." Then simply repeat those exact same words every time it comes up. This way, he has something to say to himself when the inevitable happens and you can stay positive/affirmative the whole time.


I've been to Mt. Vernon without a George Washington reenactor as well. This may not even be an issue. I'd email to ask if there will be a reenactor there, and if there's not, just tell Noah that George Washington is out of town in Williamsburg that day, maybe?


Strep exacerbates OCD too. Just saying. The argument may be Noah but might also be a little streppy (google PANDAS disorder if you want more to be scared of). When my son gets stuck in an idea, as he often does, I find direct is best. Acknowledge the feeling that yes, you DID meet GW last time but THIS time, since it is a field trip day, you might NOT meet GW or you might meet and actor filling in for GW b/c even Presidents who have been reincarnated need to go to Camp David and rest now and then. I don't think the kids will push it on trip day. Some will get caught up and go right along and there is always a bully who will try to pop that idea balloon. But as long as Noah does not feel challenged to prove he is right, you'll be good. And by then, the strep will be gone....just in case this is a touch of strep too. Strep sucks.


Agree with emailing Mt. Vernon. If they do have a GW there, odds are he will agree that he and Noah met in Williamsburg. Historical reenactors tend to be really, really committed to their portrayal, and in real life, GW was all about being polite to people and never making them uncomfortable. My guess is that if Noah was all "I KNOW YOU!" GW would be like "Yes!" and if Noah notices that the guy is different, GW will be able to come up with a good reason. I am sure this is something that has happened before.


Would video evidence help? I just looked up George Washington reenactor/reenactment on YouTube and got a couple hits. This one seemed promising, though you'll want to watch it first to make sure it's age appropriate: http://youtu.be/qJyNELeRh3A. An image search also pulled up a lot of different actors playing Washington, that might help as well.


I am piping in supporting the email Mt. Vernon idea.

I forget -- how did you eventually deal with the belief that Voldemort and Harry Potter were real and fighting one another issue? Maybe there are some clues in how that was resolved?

I guess the other question that might guide how you approach this is whether it's more important that he actually stop believing this or more important that he stop trying to convince everyone that it's true. Obviously, with the former comes the latter. However, if the belief seems really unshakable and you don't have a vested interest in undoing it right now, you could maybe approach it from a "lets not brag about meeting George Washington's reincarnation because not everyone believes in reincarnation/gets to do that" standpoint?

OR -- maybe the real George Washington spends all his time in Colonial Williamsburg and the Mt. Vernon people hired an actor because, since they couldn't have the real deal, they had to make do?

I am feeling for him here, so much. And you. This is really a tough one. I am hoping so hard it all works out in a way that's not too upsetting for Noah.


I've been to a lot of presidential houses, and none of them have ever had a reenactor, so chances are good there won't be any GW at Mount Vernon. (In which case, he's clearly just hanging at Williamsburg.)

That probably doesn't help with your larger question, though.

If you're more concerned about the peer stuff, you could tell him maybe he shouldn't talk too much about meeting GW because he probably won't be at Mt. Vernon and the other kids won't get to meet him, anyway.


You might also show him pictures from the web, like http://tackytouristphotos.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/George-Washington-Mount-Vernon-Tacky-Tourist-Photos-x.jpg that show people visiting Mount Vernon. Show him that "this is the actor that plays George Washington at Mount Vernon". Maybe give him something concrete to actually SEE.


I dont' have any advice, just want to offer a big sigh. My oldest son's "magical" beliefs about a number of delightful (to us) things have just been crushed by his fellow 3rd graders. I would just make sure you or Jason is with him on the trip- distraction is still a wonderful tool for the other kiddos if they start to questions Noah's belief. I just wish I could shelter my kids from the world when it comes to these situations- sometimes other kids just seem so intent on crushing my kid ya know. You will know what do/say you always have. :)


This sounds like the perfect question to send into Advice Smackdown. I bet she'd have some great advice. ...Oh, right. ;)


I like the people who said to tell him that on this trip he might meet an actor playing George Washington, and not try to burst his bubble about Williamsburg. I am not a dream crusher though. My 8 year old is ready for the leprechauns to come on the 17th, and for the fairies to leave her a present if she leaves them out some milk and honey the night before the first day of spring. I didn't create these beliefs of hers, but I don't have the heart to not make it happen for her. You only get to be a kid who believes in all kinds of possibilities for so long. If my girlie thought George Washington had reincarnated, well, I wouldn't be the one to tell her otherwise. But I'd tell her that any Georges at Mount Vernon that day were actors.


Don't forget to change Noah's toothbrush! Strep germs love to hang out there and he could reinfect himself once he goes off the antibiotics.


Your story reminds me of when we took my children to Philadelphia. My daughter was then a first-grader and my son was in fifth grade and a HUGE history buff. We went to Betsy Ross' house and my daughter was so excited because she'd learned about Betsy Ross and how she'd made the first American flag. And my son told her that story was a myth, that Ross made flags but not necessarily the first one, etc. My daughter responded that, "No, it is true. Mrs. Bailey (her do-no-wrong 1st grade teacher)told us." And my son would not back down; in his mind, he was right, after all, so why would we continue to perpetrate a myth for my daughter? I tried to explain there was nothing to be gained and just to let her be, to no avail. Anyway, the scenario ended with my children yelling at each other in front of the historic site and my daughter sobbing hysterically. Fun family times! (Nine years later, they both remember that trip well.)


I vote for the "Yeah, you met GW that other time, but this time, there are only actors playing GW. I bet you can totally tell, because you know all about it from the other time. Look! A hamster!" or some other change of subject. This is not a battle you have to fight, and giving him a way to be right to his peers is only kind.


If you find out that there will definitely be a GW re-enactor at Mt. Vernon when you visit, then maybe sit down with him, and say that you are confused. Tell him that you found out that the GW at Mt. Vernon looks different than the one he met at Williamsburg. Tell him you can't figure out why that is, and see if he can help you work it out. My kids always have more flexible thinking when they are in charge of problem solving the answer (as opposed to me telling them.)


I one hundred percent believe that you should trust your instincts in loosening his rigidity about this beforehand.

That said, I find myself wishing that this were a made-for-TV movie done Christmas-movie style. All the adults and kids try to make Noah realize that Reincarnated George Washington is not real. His faith persists. Then, at Mount Vernon, a miracle happens. Reincarnated George Washington appears and remembers Noah! And takes him on a horse ride tour of Mount Vernon! And he is totally vindicated and all the adults suddenly find themselves remembering their childhood faith in Reincarnated George Washington and everybody learns the true meaning of the American Revolution and a cheesy version of America the Beautiful plays as the credits roll.

Sarah Lynn

The Mt. Vernon Web site has a section on the day's events. If you were there today, you could "meet" Martha Washington and some of the people who "knew him best." You could maybe get a head's up for the day of the trip. I think commenters have made some good suggestions. I also remember that my grandchildren, for reasons not known to me, were "creeped out" by the visitors' center movie. Good luck!


I would discuss with him what reincarnation really means. Otherwise I'd be nervous he'd start thinking everybody could just come back from death, whole and exactly as they are now. Just stay calm and matter of fact about it. Maybe tie it into talking about how learning about a historical figure helps them stay alive in our hearts, like remembering people that we love who've passed. I don't know, for me, the truth is that much more special -- that the actor isn't "just an actor", it's someone who cares so much about George Washington to study and learn and practice acting like him, in order to share with everyone who comes to visit how awesome GW was. It is, in a way, reincarnation. But in reincarnation, the spirit wouldn't look anything like the body, and wouldn't really remember anything. It's the memory -- not the body -- that makes us live on after we die.


This is so very hard. But I would maybe see if it would be possible to get in touch with the person who originally played George Washington when Noah first met him. If you explained what was happening maybe he would be willing to have a brief conversation with him explaining that while he does portray GW, GW passed away a long time ago.

Lots of hugs


If this were me, I'd make sure to gently tell him that GW isn't really alive. But, there are lots and lots of people who think GW is really special and important to our country so they dress up like him to keep his memory alive. Otherwise, I think it could be confusing to him, especially, if (God forbid) he were to lose someone close in the near future. "Is ----- reincarnated and living in Williamsburg with George Washington?" "How come George came back to life but ---- didn't?" I think it's easier to address things with my kids early on, I figure it'll be less soul crushing than if they were to believe something and find out later it wasn't true. However, I also do all of the Santa/Easter Bunny/Tooth Fairy nonsense, so you probably shouldn't listen to me at all, since I'm an inconsistent hypocrite.


What not to do: let him watch Legend of Sleepy Hollow. But seriously, maybe a book about reincarnation to explore that further with him or talking to a Buddhist monk about their beliefs about what happens with reincarnation, specifically that reincarnation means coming back different. This one looked interesting: "The Mountains of Tibet" by Mordecai Gerstein. But maybe that's more confusing? Good luck!


I am sorry, but I got as far as the picture of George and all I could keep thinking of was, "Am I the only one noticing the package on our former Founding Father?" after that the rest was a mess.


My niece had a similar confusion with Harriet Tubman, refusing to buy that HT was no longer with us.
We were advised to go to findagrave.com and look up Harriet Tubman. We then explained that the movie we saw was a tribute, or honor paid to HT because of the impact that her actions had on us in the United States.

My niece was greatly upset at first, but the photos of the grave combined with a wiki article on Harriet Tubman's life put this to rest in about 5 minutes.

Nancy R

I want to live in Kirsten's world.


I have no idea what you should do. Reading stuff like this makes me think I should skip having kids and just stick with cats.

But what you definitely should NOT do is show Noah this: http://www.mountvernon.org/manmyth/great-georges-ghost


I vote with helping him understand beforehand. Kids like to be right (not just Noah) and I can see his peers arguing with him on the trip if he continues to talk about the reincarnated GW. I think the actor who plays GW should call Noah, at your request. Pretty much any male whose voice he doesn't recognize would work. This "actor" should be able to geek out with Noah over their shared love of GW and explain clearly how this love evolved into his playing a role. Hey, maybe even suggest that as a possible career or hobby for Noah when he grows up!


Is it worth showing Noah any movies with other actors playing George Washington? Could it help make him more flexible with his expectations about what George Washington should look like on this field trip? I do think emailing Mt. Vernon is a good option as the other commenters suggested. I wish you the best of luck. I think you're going to need it. :)


If you can't IMDB the Mt Vernon George, how about finding all of the various actors who have played George in other situations?


Could you take him to a local community play somewhere near you and see if you can go backstage to meet the actors after? They could show him the costumes and make up and everything and maybe talk to him about what it's like being an actor and pretending to be someone else.

Or maybe you could give him the Santa clause talk of "we know he's the real GW but the other kids think it's an actor, so it's a secret we share so we don't spoil the fun for them"


I have to say this whole situation immediately made me think of the movie Elf when he confronts the department store Santa! Maybe you could teach Noah to just yell, "You sit on a throne of lies!" to the GW actor and move on! :-)
Actually, you've gotten a lot of good advice. I think trying to force Noah to change his thinking on this is going to be tough. I like the idea of just going along with yes you met him but this time it might be an actor. You could Google images of the different actors that have played GW to show him before hand.

Lynda M Otvos

Lots of good advice, Amester, nothing I say can add anything further so I'll just toss out a compliment or two.

Gosh, you're cute when you worry !~!

that's all I have. Must be the weekend.



I have to disagree with the other commenters in part -- I really don't think you should let his belief that he met the real George Washington go unchallenged -- that needs a basic reality check.

Believing in elves and Santa Claus is different because it's not true but "could" be -- whereas we really do have all the facts that Noah met an actor playing GW, and people don't reincarnate as themselves after death. I could see this belief about GW reincarnating leading into all kinds of trouble (will he think your father might do the same, for example?) if you don't challenge it now.

Having him talk to the GW actor (or possibly to a Park employee who can confirm) sounds like a great way to go.

Having a firm grasp on reality is important for mental health, even for kids!

It sounds like he is still in the stage of having trouble differentiating fiction from reality, as I'm sure you noticed! Charming, yes, but slowly becoming a bit age-inappropriate.


I have taken my students to Mount Vernon for field trips for about 5 years. They have never had a George Washington character anywhere. I don't think that you will have to worry about it. There are some statues of George Washington in the museum, but that is all.


I like Wendy's advice on a script. I have also had success with social stories. "When I went on a trip with my family I met George Washington. Soon I will go on a trip with my school. There will be an actor playing George Washington. It will be a fun trip. Etc. "
I pull google image pics and family pics and print a hard copy. I read together with the kid everyday and then let them have access to review.
Seems to ease anxiety and rigidity.


We were at Mt Vernon last summer and it was all plainly dressed employees. No actors. BUT they do have a giant tomb complete with George Washington coffin.... So. Be prepared for that.


I don't have any solid advice for you, but maybe also be prepared for the fact that this visit's GW might not be the GW Noah has already met. That could cause another crisis. Maybe some books about GW that definitively say that he died? Maybe trying to get a quick meet & greet with the GW actor in advance, confirming his actorness?

Kate Gillis

A Social Story might help. Google Carol Gray at The Gray Center for information about how to write one.
Write a story that describes what should happen when you go on the trip.

My class is going on a trip to Mt Vernon. We will learn about George Washington. He lived a long time ago and is dead. Sometimes a man dresses up like George Washington. He is an actor pretending that he is George Washington.

I know a lot about George Washington. I can tell my friends some of the things I have learned.


No idea about Mt. Vernon, and I hope you see this because I'm commenting a day late, but after strep you should STERILIZE EVERYTHING. Sorry about the yelling.(BTW, I can't believe you've never had strep in your house, we get it all the time, but then again we had our first ever through-the-household everybody-lost-ten-pounds oh-my-god-the-horror stomach bug this winter, and my son is ten.) Anything that goes through the dishwasher is fine, but toothbrushes, bathroom cups, anything else that has comes in contact with saliva. Kids can reinfect themselves, oh joy.


If Noah really wants some magic to still exist, maybe you all accidentally went back in time that day? Or George Washington was traveling in time? I have done some first-person living history, and it gets REALLY confusing for even some adults (wait, you're not REALLY the lighthouse keeper's wife who moved there in 1910? You look a little young for that, but you SAID you were and it sounded so real...?" I do say sometimes things like "Should we shift eras to 2014?" or say, "Sometimes, out on these islands, it's hard to know exactly WHAT year it is..." Maybe the energy was so powerful you all got a little glimpse of the real George Washington in his time, but you probably won't go back in time again, so this time there will be an actor, etc. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Living_history
good luck!


My son, who is nearly 7 seems to believe all sorts of impressive nonsense (and is on the Autistic Spectrum). I just let it go. It's not like he'll get into an actual fisticuffs about it...probably. I throw in the odd comment here and there, but his friends all have their own obsessions, so they all seem to even out.

Obviously no-one wants their kids to suffer, but, why not just let it play out? Going to absurd lengths to protect him from an unusual idea he has is not necessarily doing him any favours. I would guess that most of his peers don't care that he believes that GW is real or not either. He'll work it out one day...or set up a new GW cult, either way, cool.

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