Saturday, January 7, 2012

About SPOILER ALERT! Bambi...

We have a very vocal apartment.  Our refrigerator occasionally wails a shrill, broken-hearted lament that sometimes goes on for quarters of an hour, our walls are thin, and our bathroom is a cacophony of water, pipe and pressure any time of day.  If you've ever done sound design, it's a great place to live.  Our twins soon took an interest in the sounds and their many suspected causes, but one day I was startled to notice one or the other storming around (they like to take turns with these things -- they're impressively fair about things like this) with crossed arms and bloody-murderous looks.  

"What's the matter?  Did something happen?" I ask.

"I'm mad!"

"I can see that.  You look mad.  What are you mad about?"

"No, I'm angry!"

"Oh, I see.  What are you angry about?"

After a moment of deep introspection, she'd announce, with a vehemence that trumpeted intolerable personal offense, "THE WATER IN THE PIPES!" and then go on storming and huffing and crossing arms with vicious expressions.

They were practicing.  I'm a youngest child, and I didn't recall ever seeing children practice feelings before.  I guess we'd managed a relatively conflict-free household up 'til then, because for months, typically on alternating days (to share), one would affect the pose and manner of outrage and go through the motions of being mad and talking about it.  It was really difficult not to laugh -- it was REALLY cute! -- but it was obvious this process was sincere and an important component of developmental emotional play.

Now, I'll admit to fast-forwarding Walt Disney's "Bambi" past the [SPOILER ALERT] mother's death scene, telling my girls simply, "it's time for Bambi to go spend time with his daddy now," and they still don't seem to mind.  Initially, I did this to let them see the parts of the story I thought they were best able to understand and enjoy.  After all, they're three now and still not quite clear on the idea that waking up from an afternoon nap is not waking up to an entirely different day.  But seeing them play-practice feelings (wholly new and doubly startling for me when they switched from acting out anger to "help, help, emergency!"), I realized what I was seeing them do is exactly the reason so many stories, especially directed at a child audience, make little kids cry.  Stories afford us the great luxury of a multitude of surrogate lifetimes, showing us our many possible futures.  The best ones, those true to the Virtues, show us paths to the light, ways to overcome tragedy, pain, loss, fear, and the consequences of yielding to the "dark side."  We see Bambi love and grow and suffer, and we see him overcome.  If a fawn can do it, so can we.  If only Darth Vader had watched Bambi. 

Realizing all this, I recently let the story play out, no fast-forward abbreviation or quick cut to Bambi's time with daddy, armed for the moment my daughters asked me to "pause it," so they could ask me with a mix of awe and wonder and empathy, "Did Bambi's mommy die?"

"Yes," I answered, relieved to see they don't quite get what that means yet.  

"Mommy, will you die?" my eldest asked, wide-eyed.

"Someday," I said, resolved to talk to them honestly and plainly, though I did add without any reasonable foundation beyond my own hope it's true, "but not for a long time."

Then she was quiet and I thought we were done for the moment until she asked very quietly, "Mommy, will I die?"

Mommy shoulda fast-forwarded...

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