I loved Brothers Grimm stories, I grew up with them. Little Red Riding Hood, The Sleeping Beauty, Hansel and Gretel, my childhood would have been so different without them. I can’t remember how old I was when I leafed through those books, or maybe even read them (if that was at the time when I was able to read), over and over again. I was there, part of those pictures, part of those pages; more than thirty years later, I remember the illustrations, I remember the tone of that world.
When my mother sent us Brothers Grimm stories (and some other stories in Serbian, such as Bambi), I read them to Andrei. Since he was one and a half, maybe two. On and off. There were months when he cared for “those” books, and there were months when he didn’t.
The other night he pulls two books from “that” pile. Hansel and Gretel. And Bambi. I start reading. In Serbian. Andrei understands quite a bit, but I usually follow his facial expressions, and if I think he looks confused, I usually repeat the sentence in English, ask him if he knows what specific words mean, provide the English equivalents if needed, and then we move on.
So I read Hansel and Gretel. The second sentence into the story: the two children overhear their parents saying that they are going to take the children into the woods and leave them there to fend for themselves. Andrei looks confused so I provide the translation, cringing. I go on to remind him that this is just a story, and that in real life people don’t do that (well, only rarely, but I don’t say that), they love their children and they cannot imagine their life without their children.
While I am saying this, several thoughts come into my mind: The reality-fiction line is really blurry for my four-year-old boy. His separation anxiety is still pretty strong so we frequently have to remind him: We will be back. You have fun with your friends, and mommy and daddy will be back in a few hours. Does Andrei really need to hear about parents abandoning their children? Now, when we are still working through his separation anxiety issues?
We get through Hansel and Gretel, I convince him that witches don’t exist in real life, only in books, but as soon as we put the book down, Andrei puts Bambi into my hands. We read about Bambi’s zest for life, (Andrei has always loved Bambi), but then – there is that terrible morning when hunters show up. Not good, I know. What are they doing?, Andrei asks. Why are they killing animals?
I don’t know much about hunting, I don’t like hunting, but I know that there must be a way to somehow justify hunting, although not in the world of a four-year-old, so I am not going to even try. Why did they kill the mother?, my son asks for the third time, tears in his eyes. Someone should come to kill them.
Okay, this is a complex question: Is violence a way to fight violence? I respect my four-year-old son’s sense of justice. Maybe, I say, and continue to read…until we get to the fire scene…somehow we get to the last page, and my son immediately turns the book back to the hunter scene. Why did they kill the mother?
I talked to him, although I can’t quite remember what I said. That sometimes people kill. Maybe something else. So many thoughts went through my head: When do you teach your kid about the real world, violence, greed, and all? I guess not at the age of four.
We have read sad books before, and Andrei got teary-eyed here and there. I thought that it’s important to expose children to all sorts of different emotions, sadness included, so they know how to live with the emotion until the emotion dissolves.
That night, after Andrei fell asleep, I put many of Brothers Grimm stories away. Bambi too. For an indefinite period of time. I know we will go back to them. I think these stories are important. But we might need to wait a few years.
Have you introduced your kids to Brothers Grimm stories? What was your experience?
It’s Thanksgiving Day today. I’ve been feeling it coming for days, maybe even weeks. It’s the week before Thanksgiving, it’s the week after Thanksgiving, have a great Thanksgiving, whatever. Over the years, I even started initiating the “Have a great Thanksgiving” thing. It feels real to me to wish a happy holiday to people. It feels good.
But, even after full fifteen years in America, even after experiencing at least fifteen Thanksgiving Days (some of them alone, by choice, writing like crazy), my feelings about this holiday are pretty “superficial.” Yeah, it’s a holiday, and I even find it quite likable. It’s a moment to stop and smell the roses, that’s at least how I see it. And I like that pause that this holiday invites. It’s also about fullness – full bellies, full houses, people moving around only to come together. It’s not about cities becoming empty, like the Memorial Day is, when you look around and what you notice first are empty streets (as people rush to the beach). I like the holidays that are about emptiness, but I like the fullness of Thanksgiving as well, in a different way. Read more…
My son always knows what he wants. Today – the black shirt with a skeleton. Tomorrow – the grey sweater. And the blue boots. And the striped leg warmers. And the green belt. And the big rabbit. And the big motorcycle that plays music. And the blue car with eyes. And the shoes with lights and not the shoes with laces. And the gummy fish, not the oatmeal raisin cookie today (I love oatmeal raisin cookies, but I don’t want any now).
Always specific. Always clear. Always certain. About what he wants.
I think that’s good. I want to support it. This ability to hear the voice inside him calling for something and to be able to read it, without editing it…That’s all good. Read more…
It was my husband who suggested we have a garden. A vegetable garden. In the middle of a city.
It was my husband who did most of the work. I helped out a few times, fifteen minutes here, fifteen minutes there, maybe a total of two hours all summer, that was all, Andrei and I dug in the dirt, weeded, watered the tomato plants.
It is my husband who loves plants in that way, like they are people, or rather kids who require that unique combination of tenderness and deep understanding. It is my husband who has and tends to the violets on our kitchen windowsill, the same ones that I never, not one single time, remembered to water.
But last night it was me who stepped out into the garden late in the evening, after midnight, after I realized that my husband had fallen asleep while putting our son to bed. It was me who decided to save from the cold those herbs that we never got around to harvesting. Read more…
While building and expanding on his sense of self, my three-year-old absorbs and imitates all sorts of people. Mostly us. It’s scary sometimes. You don’t want to see your most funny mannerisms in your kid, or find out how many annoying phrases you tend to use in your imperfect everyday speech. But what’s even worse is when you can’t even track down the role-model for a specific behavior, or if you do, you know you can’t eliminate it from your life as it is simply part of the larger environment.
My son suddenly likes to pretend he is smoking. Now, I have never smoked a cigarette in my life, and my husband quit smoking a year before Andrei was born. Andrei doesn’t watch television, but we live in a big city and he has definitely seen numerous people on the street smoking. So now, he pretends he is smoking.
My husband and I tried to explain (as simply and clearly as possible) that this is a dangerous habit. We also tried to simply ignore it. Nonetheless, Andrei still “smokes” at times. And he definitely does a great job of imitating typical smokers’ mannerisms and “blowing the fire out” as he calls it. Read more…
Sometime ago I wrote about my wish to instill internal motivation in my son. Indeed, it is so important to me to raise a kid with a strong sense of self, who will not spend his life looking for other people’s recognition of his abilities instead of simply enjoying those abilities and letting them lead him. And in this context, I try hard to reduce the amount of praise I offer to my son to force him to discover that place within himself that will feed him and offer him all the praise he needs.
But here is my problem. So many childrearing advice is based on some sort of a reward system.
You ate a good meal, you get to EAT/HAVE whatever.
You behaved well when we were out, you GET whatever.
You did your pee-pees in the potty, you GET whatever.