Bye-Bye, Brothers Grimm and Bambi…for Now
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?