Sunday, January 27, 2008

Life lessons from Cinderella

Have any of you other mamas out there ever realized that you pushed your child into an activity or "first time" experience because it was something you wanted, only later to realize that they weren't ready at all? That you pushed them toward something that wasn't appropriate for their age and stage?

Oh, woe is me, because that is exactly what I have done.

A while back I introduced Sister to her first Disney movie: Cinderella. She was already quite familiar with the Disney princesses from books and dolls and what-not. (Can any child who walks through Target, Wal-Mart, etc. escape Disney's merchandising?) And I LOVE Cinderella. I love the story, and the movie(s) and the dress, and everything. Anyway, I decided that perhaps Sister was ready for a full-length feature full of princess clothes and magical moments and happy endings. And at first I thought I was right. She loved it.

But from the very first viewing, she seemed quite disturbed by the "mean girls" who rip Cinderella's dress. I used my best Mommy voice to explain that those girls are indeed mean, but it's OK because, Look! The fairy godmother makes her an even more beautiful dress!

The problem is, she can't let it go. And now she's started begging to watch the movie only to burst into tears during the dress ripping scene. Poor baby.

I, in my worldly, jaded adulthood perceived that movie as having zero violence. I thought that it would be just perfect for my three-year old. I saw that scene as dramatic, and even somewhat comical. I never imagined it through a child's innocent eyes.

But let's think- here is poor Cinderella living in a house with three hateful women, doing their bidding all day long. And here comes an invitation to a ball... Cinderella is so excited! And here are the mice and the birds (her only friends) sewing their little hearts out and risking their lives to collect beads and finery for the dress. And here is Cinderella, so awed and thankful for the remade dress (once her dead mother's) running down the stairs full of hope and joy to be going to the ball too. And here are the nasty sisters, mean girls indeed, tearing at the dress like a pack of hyenas, shredding all of Cinderella's hopes and dreams.

No wonder Sister cries. I feel like crying now, too.

Of course, there is ultimately a happy ending. But what I have realized is that in offering this movie what I have actually done is show Sister that people like the step-sisters exist. And they're out there waiting for you- ready to shred your dreams.

The interesting thing is how Sister is dealing with it. In the last two weeks I have noticed her doing a lot of role-playing. She will declare that she is her teacher, or a princess, etc. and pretend play. Well, lately she has taken to being a "mean girl" and she will pretend to reach out and rip at my clothes.

When this first happened I wasn't sure what to do. Should I reprimand her? Should we have a little chat about being nice vs. being mean?

Then I remembered an experience from my first years of teaching school. That year there had been a widely publicized disaster that was all over the news- on TV constantly. The kids were abuzz about it and we had spent a large bit of time talking it over in class. On that day we were out on the playground at recess, and suddenly I realized a large group of my kids were "playing pretend" about this disaster. Some of them were pretending to be injured, others pretending to be doctors and nurses, etc. One child was even pretending to be fire and was going around "burning" the "victims." I was rather horrified, and jumped up to go give them a severe lecture about showing respect and being appropriate and playing civilized games. But then an older, experienced teacher standing next to me put her hand on my shoulder and said, "Let 'em be, honey." I was shocked. She could tell. She went on to explain that this was how children dealt with strong feelings and situations they didn't understand and that it would be OK and actually help them. Just leave them alone.

I sat there and watched the children try to make sense of the senseless. And lo and behold, "Mr. Fire" suddenly morphed into "Mr. Fireman" who was helping the burn victims, and over the course of the next 10 minutes, each victim was taken to the "hospital area" (flat piece of grass under a tree) and tended to by the nurses. And when I rang the bell to line up, they all ran to the door, happy and laughing and care-free. I whispered to the master teacher, "Should I talk about this with them when we get back to class?" She just smiled a wise smile and said, "No. They're just fine. Get to math."

So last night when Sister came up to me and said, "Hey, Mommy! I a mean girl!" and made a horrible face and pretended to rip my clothes, I collapsed to the ground and wept into my hands. "Oh! I'm so sad! The mean girl just ripped my beautiful dress!" Sister watched me carefully for a moment, and then broke into a radiant smile. "Mommy! Now I Cinderella and you the fairy godmother! Fix my dress!"

And I did.

I've learned a valuable parenting lesson through this little experience. I will be much more careful about the images sister sees, and what she watches on TV, and even the stories we read. I don't want her to be too sheltered, but I also don't want to push her into the quicksand of this world either. It's a balance, for sure- one I'll be much more careful to keep.

1 comment:

Beck said...

So often as a parent I wish I had an undo button, some magical way to reverse a parenting decision that was perhaps not the greatest. But you're completely right - it IS a balance.