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Hanging on to the innocence of childhood

October 22, 2012

As we pulled into our driveway, I could see a small, brown box sitting beneath the mailbox at our front door.  We had been waiting for this package for more than a week, and I must admit, I was very excited.

Avery was excited, too. We picked it up and carried it inside. She waited impatiently as only a two-year-old can while I opened the box. She was thrilled to find three books in there, just for her.

“Mom, what dat guwal’s name?” she asked.

I told her, “This one is Cinderella. That one is Snow White, and this is Ariel, the Little Mermaid. They are her first fairytale princess stories, and I was so excited to introduce her to them.

One of my favorite parts of parenting is getting the opportunity to introduce Avery to something new. Seeing the look of pure joy on her face as she discovers something that delights her just melts me. It brings back those memories of my own childhood- being blissfully unaware of anything but the pleasure of that moment. I loved Cinderella as a little girl, and I couldn’t wait to introduce her to this fairytale world.

Avery was anxious to read these new treasures, too, so we sat down on the couch to get started. Enamored with the beautiful, brightly colored dress, she chose to read Snow White first. I began to read, and I must admit I was more than a little surprised. When I think of Snow White, I think of her with the dwarfs- happy, singing, smiling. But, here we are talking about an evil queen who hates Snow White because she’s too beautiful. As I skipped some sentences that seemed a bit harsh, she asked me, “Mommy, why that lady so mean? Why she not like Snow White?”

I tried to brush quickly over the details and move on to something more appropriate for a two-year-old. I felt a little relief as Snow White was escorted outside the palace, since there wouldn’t be any more pictures of the evil queen. The story then goes on to describe how the huntsman takes Snow White into the woods, and then he pulls out a KNIFE to KILL Snow White.

I’m sorry, what? This is not the Snow White that I remember. Why am I reading about knives and killing people to my preschooler?

I hurried through the rest of the book and conveniently provided a distraction so she could move on to something else. But, I was left wondering where to go from there.

I did a quick recap in my mind of the fairytales I loved as a child. When you take a closer look, within each fantasy world, there always seems to be some allusion to death, loss, violence or ridicule.

These are not easy things for a child to grasp, and at first, I found myself a little bit angry. I want my girl to enjoy the sweet moments of childhood, but I don’t want those moments tainted with fear. As I talked it through with a couple of my friends, though, I realized that it’s not the stories I’m mad at. It’s life.

I don’t want movies or storybooks to show my daughter Mommies who have died because I don’t want her to know that in this life, some Mommies actually do die. I don’t want her to know that people hate each other, some so much that they will kill another person. I don’t want her to know the pain of rejection and ridicule.

But, as my friend kindly pointed out, it’s simply the truth. Perhaps I’m grieving in advance the loss that is coming, the loss of innocence. Two years old isn’t the right time to explain the complexities of life and death, but I have to be committed that when the questions come, I will answer her honestly.

I can’t shield her forever from these hard truths, even if I want to. And attempting to pretend these things don’t exist will only teach her to look elsewhere for the truth because I can’t be trusted. I can’t give in to my fears and selfishly avoid the reality of the world we live in. It is the world she will live in long after I’m gone, and I’ll offer whatever wisdom I can as she navigates her way through.

This morning as were getting dressed for school, she brought her Cabbage Patch doll to me and asked a very important question. If you’ve never noticed, each Cabbage Patch doll has a printed signature on their rear ends. “Mommy,” she said. “Why does my baby have a tattoo on her behind?”

I’m not sure who taught her what a tattoo was or how she instinctively finds it curious to have one on your behind, but that’s where we are today.

We’ll start with that one.