I have realized that, now that I have a baby, I need to take a stand and have a well-thought-out position on certain topics such as discipline, manners and eating habits. I must ground myself and establish my parenting identity so that I don’t feel windswept by all the polarizing, passionate schools of thought out there.
At a New Year’s Eve party, I asked a French lady to recommend some classic French fairy tales. She replied, ‘Julie! You must not read fairy tales to Megan! They are evil, pure evil. You shouldn’t teach her about witches, magic, sorcery and dark things like that.’
This lady expressed herself articulately and she made a lot of sense. I couldn’t argue with her because her opinion surprised me and turned my head into fluff. I wasn’t sure what I thought about fairy tales. Alastair and I discussed it in the car on the way home and that night, I lay in bed staring at the ceiling while I analysed the pros and cons.
I’ve come to the conclusion that fairy tales didn’t do me any harm. I want to stimulate Megan’s imagination, I want her to dream without bounds, I want her to lose herself in fantasy and I want to her have fun in the Land of Pretend. I did (and sometimes I still do).
I will not celebrate Halloween in any form and Megan can’t watch movies such as Harry Potter until she has reached an appropriate age but I think fairy tales are ok for little kids. While these stories may not be true, some of their themes are. They educate children about certain realities in life – life is a battle between good and evil, we must resist and fight baddies and good ultimately triumphs in the end. I want Megan to be aware of this truth.
Having said that, I must be sensitive to the overactive imaginations of kids. I mustn’t forget how intensely children experience these stories. My discussion with the French lady reminded me of a Disney Sleeping Beauty book I owned when I was about five. It had vivid, colourful images and I was so haunted by the picture of the witch, that I couldn’t sleep in the same room as the book lest she jump from the pages during the night. So, I hid the book in the bathroom, behind the curtain in a shower that we never used. I needed that distance between the witch and me.
My fear was intense and exhausting. I recall needing the toilet one night so I hopped to the bathroom, clutching my crotch. I stopped suddenly in the doorway. It dawned on me that I couldn’t go any further because the witch was in the book in the shower. I scuttled back to bed and held it in until morning.
[The farmer’s wife] cut off their tails with a carving knife.
When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall. Down with come baby, cradle and all.
Jack fell down and broke his crown. And Jill came tumbling after.
There was an old woman who lived in a shoe … She whipped [her children] all soundly and put them to bed.
Goosey goosey gander, whither shall I wander … There I met an old man who would not say his prayers. I took him by the left leg and threw him down the stairs
I bet that French lady would tell me not to sing nursery rhymes to Megan. I don’t think these songs will scare Megan for life or turn her into a manic-depressive saboteur that cuts off mice tails and chucks old men down stairs. I used to throw my head back and belt out these tunes with great gusto and flamboyancy, all the way from the gut. The words never resonated with me. There was no connection between my head and my voicebox and I never once analysed what I was singing.
For example, it never occurred to me that ‘Frere Jacques’ was another language, let alone French. Now that I am learning French, I know what I was supposed to be singing and what the words mean. Up until recently, I used to sing it like this:
Frere Jacques. Frere Jacques.
Door may voo. Door may voo.
Sonny lay Martina. Sonny lay Martina.
Ding ding dong. Ding ding dong
Now I can pronounce the words ‘dormez-vous’ and ‘sonnez les matines’ with more refinement. I never cared when I was a kid. It was fun to sing and that’s all that mattered.
I can relate to the Madam&Eve cartoon where little Thandi belted out Christmas carols. She sang:
We three king’s accordion door.
Bears and gifts we travelled so far
Feeling fountains, moving mountains
Following Jan the Star.
Alastair and I are educating ourselves on French nursery rhymes and the catchiest tune is ‘Alouette, gentille Alouette.’ It is an ear worm for, once it is in your head, it won’t go away and it pops up at the most bizarre moments. One morning, Al woke up at 3am and couldn’t go back to sleep for Alouette was rocking around in his head. As a French beginner, he initially had no clue what the song was about.
Alouette is a bird and the song describes how you would like to pluck off the feathers of various parts of this lark – first the head, then the neck, then the beak, then the wings, then the feet. It is downright barbaric and yet it happens to be one of the most famous French rhymes.
I don’t want Megan to sing it and then assume it is appropriate to defeather birds. My French teacher says the song dates back to the revolution. The Alouette was a symbol of the aristocracy and the song was sung by the poor and described how they wanted to take things off the rich. I investigated it and the keeper of all knowledge, Google, said it has French-Canadian roots so the revolution theory sounds odd. I know it has a deeper meaning but I’m still not sure what it is. Oh who cares! Kids don’t!