It’s the sort of question you don’t want to answer as a parent. Up there with am I going to die someday and does Santa really exist. You want to be honest, but you don’t want to terrify or disillusion. My daughter, 5, watches enough Disney to know about villains but she also recently learned the terms fiction and nonfiction. And she wants help differentiating between them.
I tell her they are real, but, hedging, say there aren’t any around here. I regret the caveat immediately. We live in a safe zip code but I shouldn’t whitewash. Turns out she doesn’t believe me anyway, because it’s not much later that she begins asking me, at bedtime, whether I’ve locked the front door. It becomes enough of a ritual that I allow her to do it herself, to eliminate the question from her mind, empower her and, hopefully, allay her fears.
So what about villains? What’s the RDA of evil for kindergarteners? I took my daughter to see Beauty and the Beast in 3D recently. It’s a hackneyed story, but I like its Technicolor shades of gray. The Beast is a Beast but also a Prince. Gaston is a catch but also a big old jerk. And while we certainly should take all things Disney with a grain of salt, there are archetypal bones in its storytelling. Good vs. evil is a very human framework for understanding the world around us. And it starts being applied very young. The challenge for parents is to help tease out that not everything falls into one camp or the other. There are some things, some people, who fall into both.
Which brings me to the 3D experience we’re having at school just now. A beloved teacher, with a perfectly clean 12-year record, has been arrested on child pornography charges. We struggle with the impossible question: how could someone perform so well in one role, while simultaneously, truthfully, being so absolutely wrong for that role? He was a terrific teacher. And quite the criminal. He seemed a Prince, but was truly, at his core, a Beast. The story is meant to move in the other direction – what seems bad should turn out to be good. It’s why, though I allow Disney in my house, I do not allow the TV news. Am I over-sanitizing? Is this the emotional equivalent of too much Purel? Turns out it’s not effective anyway, evil can come in like fog under the door. Loss of innocence, no matter how incremental, is a one-way street.
So far, my attempts to explain and answer my daughter’s questions have felt half-assed and imperfect. She has heard certain (sordid) truths from classmates and more general, sanitized explanations from her teachers. She’s afraid to tell me what she knows; it’s embarrassing. “He took pictures of naked people!” she finally whispers, after much cajoling, then buries her head under her pillow. I wish it were only embarrassing. I tell her he broke the law by taking those pictures, he can never be a teacher again, he will never hurt anyone else. School will go on just as before and yes, you are safe there. But I can’t promise that. I’d give my life to have it so, but I can’t offer her a guarantee. A fact that will always frighten me more than her.
So yes, Sweetpea, bad guys are real. They come in all shapes and sizes and you can’t tell what they are just by looking at them. So we lock our doors and don’t talk to strangers and speak up when we feel frightened or unsafe or threatened. But know there are a hell of a lot more good guys than bad guys. This is when I’m glad she identifies more with superheroes than princesses. So I invoke Firestar and Batman and Anakin Skywalker. And maybe it’s time for a little more Marvel Comics and George Lucas in our lives.
By Guest Blogger: Beazie Chase