In the New York Times today, Lisa Belkin, whose writing I love and have followed for years, wrote about fairy tales and whether they are too scary to be read to children. I laughed out loud, but not because I found the topic ridiculous. On the contrary, I actually blogged about it over eight years ago when my oldest son was less than a year old.*
Since then, we've seen more horrors than we could have imagined: 9/11 and Columbine are the first that leap to mind. In light of this, a conversation about fairy tales seems almost trite. There are those who may think that such child-focused discussions and debates are silly or unnecessary, but in fact we are shaping the future. And when it comes to parenting, it's the little things that really make a difference.
Someone once said that perception is reality. To a child, this is especially true. Figuring out the best way to raise healthy, happy children is a difficult job that will ultimately impact (and hopefully benefit) all of society. So to those who laugh, I say, don't mock it 'til you try it.
As a writer, I truly embrace the right to freedom of speech every day. But as a parent, I also practice the art of censorship when it comes to my son. Not that I ever considered doing this. One day we were singing songs, and it just sort of...happened.
"Rock-a-bye baby in the treetop, when the wind blows the cradle will rock."
OK, I'm fine with all of that (though I wouldn't be putting MY kid up in a tree, but whatever. It's Fantasyland, let's go with it).
"When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall and down will come baby, cradle and all."
All right, let's stop right there. Since this clearly illustrates why we wouldn't be putting baby in a tree in the first place, Fantasyland is now out the window. And if we're going to be doing reality-based baby songs, what's the harm in a little censorship?
"When the moon shines, then baby will know that mommy and daddy love him so."
There. Isn't that nice? Wouldn't that be more appropriate for singing baby to sleep? For pity's sake, it took the kid three months to start sleeping through the night, and now with teething, he's got enough problems. Why give him nightmares to boot?
Now let's talk about other forms of entertainment, say television for example. As a worrisome, first-time parent, I've read plenty about the evil affects of television on babies under two years old. And let's face it: kids aren't born loving Barney. They're TAUGHT. So by not letting Jacob watch television at all, right there, I've managed to eliminate some evil, at least from MY life.
I've seen all the baby videos, Baby Chopin and the like, and read the marketing that 'Mozart boosts baby's brain synapses.' We even received a Baby Mozart video as a gift when Jacob was born, but I vowed he wouldn't know what a television was until he was at least two year old. BZZZZZZZZZT!! Wrongo, Mama, but thanks for playing.
Take a day, an ordinary Tuesday, when the laundry needs to be done, the house needs to be vacuumed, the library books are overdue and you're in charge of dinner. Then factor your baby in. Then cut his two 2-hour naps down to 35 minutes each, and sprinkle in a little baby constipation. You see where I'm going with this? I was a convert in the making. And the good news is, Jacob loved Baby Mozart. He won't be seeing it every day to be sure, but it's nice to know I have a little box of sanity-saver in the house, no prescription necessary.
Finally, there are the bedtime stories. Pick a classic. Any classic. Hansel and Gretel? Eaten by a witch. Goldilocks? Eaten by bears. Three little pigs? Eaten by a wolf. Who are the child-hating authors who came up with these stories? "Don't go into the woods. EVER." Unless this was the lesson they were going for, holy cow they should have been stopped by their editors way before print time and referred for counseling.
I've seen the Politically Correct Bedtime Stories, and while I understand the spirit behind them, I'm still a fan of Prince Charming, so I won't go editing those stories (at least not for Jacob. What parent wouldn't want to raise a prince? Ask me about them again when I have a daughter).
But the violence, well that's another story. The way I see it, there is so much violence out there today on television, on the Internet, in the schools, in the streets, and in the music, that I want to make Jacob's inevitably short childhood last as long as I possibly can. And if that means telling only sweet fairy tales, baking cookies and changing some of the classic old songs along the way, well then that's what I'm going to do. I can't control the future, but I can sure create a warm, happy past for him to remember fondly when he's grown. At least then maybe he'll call once in a while.
Photo credit: Fairy Tales by Mary L. Gow, English artist born 1851 - died 1929