Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Truth About Stepmothers And Beanstalks

Macy is in a group at school called Junior Great Books. It's basically a reading circle for 2nd graders. They are assigned a book to read each week and have to come to the group on Fridays prepared to discuss the book.

The book she is currently reading is Jack and the Beanstalk. Not the condensed version we've become acustomed to in the U.S. This is the original version. It's about twenty novel-sized pages long. It's a very different experience for Macy to read the stories like this in the original language. When Jack comes home with a handful of magic beans for the cow, his mother doesn't shake her head, sigh theatrically, and toss the lentils out the window. Nope, she smacks Jack around a little bit first. Calls him a dolt and an idiot.

This brought an shocked and incredulous look to Macy's eyes. This is not how characters in fairy tales act, the look says. Oh, but they do. We've just become used to the sanitized version created for American children by their well-meaning parents so as not to hurt little psyches. Fairy tale characters don't scare the wolf away. They blow it to bits with a shotgun (Little Red Riding Hood) or boil it alive (The Three Little Pigs).

I think this is great; I've tried to let Macy know that life isn't all sunshine and rainbows. I try to filter out the really bad stuff of course; I'm not interested in traumatizing her. But she knows that not every family is perfect. She knows firsthand that not all mommies and daddies live together. She knows that some kids are poor. Part of me feels that we adults work to take all the magic out of the world as quickly as possible for kids. But most of me knows that while fairly tales have their place, you can't wrap a child up in them forever. The trick, I think, is to know when to chisel away that next piece of magic from the story. Every kid is different, of course, and I have the added handicap of not knowing what the hell I'm doing.

Macy is a smart kid and I think she can handle knowing that fairy tales aren't real. Of course, at the same time I try to make sure her life is as close to a fairy tale as I can make it.

Parenting is hard.

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