I am so, so lucky. I’m a teacher, and I have a 1st grader in the same district, so when we get snow days, we get them off together. That’s what happened yesterday. We had a good day. We made pancake batter and then made individual pancakes together, mixing in ingredients — from the typical (milk chocolate) to the unusual (butterscotch chips) to the weird (disgusting amounts of sprinkles) to the delicious (white chocolate and almond slivers — yum!). Afterwards, SC and I played and did crafts and napped and did whatever it is you do when you’re kind of stuck in the house.
Later, when the freezing rain and sleet turned to snow, we went outside and played for a brief amount of time. Neither of us was too interested in the frigid temperatures, and we were both kind of annoyed with our winter clothing. When we came back in, he requested a bath, so I got him all settled in. Then, I went and started to fold some clean clothes.
A few minutes later, he let out a screech. I went running into the bathroom, convinced that (a) a small green alligator had crawled out of the faucet and was crawling up his leg, (b) a 20-inch long tarantula was dangling over the bathtub or ( c ) his stepdad hadn’t flushed the toilet before leaving the house, and the smell was suffocating him.
When I ran in, my son laughed at me, bubbles all over his face, and waved. Nothing was wrong. He just thought he was hilarious. I told him not to do it again, and went back to the folding of the clothes.
A few minutes later, I heard the sound again. I knew it was likely fake, but I also immediately felt my heart jump into my throat (go evolution!), so I went running back. Once again, SC was laughing and waving. With a sigh, I walked in and sat on the (closed!) toilet. “You’re scaring Mommy,” I told him sternly. “What if something were to happen and I thought you were playing?”
He didn’t look too chastised. “You’ll always come check!” he said.
While I appreciated the trust in me, I knew he couldn’t trick me. I have anxiety. This wasn’t going to work. He’d be hologramming me in 2022 (or… whatever it is Apple will have come up with by then) and telling me that he’d been shot by a robot policeman or something, and my super-old heart would give out. I’m not going out like that! So I said, “There’s a story called The Boy Who Cried Wolf. Have you heard of it?”
SC scoffed. “Yes, yes. He cries for help, they come, he laughs. He cries for help, they come, he laughs. It’s funny!”
I looked at him steadily. “No, at the end, the wolf eats him. They’re so used to him not showing up, that they don’t come when he really needs help. He gets eaten.”
SC’s eyes got larger and larger. Suddenly, he burst into siren-like wailing. “He DIED???”, he screamed. “That’s HORRIBLE! It’s AWFUL!”
“But… where did you hear the story? Why didn’t you hear the ending?”
He ignored me for a minute, sobbing and sobbing. Finally, he yelled, “That’s not how Max and Ruby told it! That’s not what happened in Max and Ruby!!!!”
Ugh. I always knew that Max and fucking Ruby would be the death of me.
I crouched down next to my sobbing, soaking wet kid. In my mind, I was vacillating between two options: tell him the story or try to distract him. As appealing as distraction was, I gently explained to him that the story was just a story… that it was an allegory (okay, I probably didn’t use the word ‘allegory’) to show kids that they shouldn’t call for help if they didn’t really need it. He seemed to understand that, but then somehow became afraid of wolves coming in the house.
I think he was just tired, but he was still sobbing and upset. I told him that our oldest, most grumpy cat would eat any wolf that walked in the door (truth) and that he was fine.
The point, though, is that I wonder — when is the right time to explain to your kids that the Disney-fied versions of fairy tales aren’t really the original versions? I guess I never really conceived of a version where the Boy who Cried Wolf wasn’t eaten, or where Hansel and Gretel didn’t push the witch into the oven. Will it be more of a shock for our kids if they hear the whole story the first time, or if they hear a “gentle” version of the story first and then another version later?
Just because I know you care — my son calmed down rather quickly and does not have a brand-new phobia of wolves. It was just a brief shock, and then he went on with his day.
I’m making someone else tell him the real ending of The Little Mermaid, though. That shit is fucked up.
(Image by Josh Vaughn)