Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Shattering my Children's Innocence, One Truth at a Time

Sometimes I feel like (and have been heard to say to Slipshod) I hate my job. What that really means is that I feel like I'm making a complete mess of things and I SUCK at it, so I hate trying so hard to do it and feeling like I usually get it wrong. Here's an example from last week:

Sweet Pea: "Mom, are unicorns real or something that somebody made up?"

Me, deer in the headlights: "Um, they're made up."

Sweet Pea: "Why?"

Me: "Do you mean why did somebody make them up?"

Sweet Pea: "Yeah."

Me: "Well, a long time ago people couldn't always explain what was going on in the world around them and so they made up stories and imagined creatures to explain those things." (How this relates to a unicorn I couldn't tell you, but it sounded good... but here's where I really stepped onto the wrong path:) "There are lots of neat creatures that people have made up."

Sweet Pea: "Like what?"

Me, realizing I need to tread very carefully here - after all, she's only 4.5: "Well, like elves and dwarves" (which she has probably not heard of yet). "And fairies."

My hand flew to my mouth. We haven't even gotten to the tooth fairy yet! WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?

At the same time that I said "And fairies," however, she was asking, "and leprechauns?"

I can't even remember what I said about leprechauns but I tried to make their existence sound more than likely. At that moment, though, I was busy being completely horrified that I had told her fairies don't exist, and hoping that she hadn't heard what I had said.

My problem with this sort of thing is that I am not the kind of person who can instantly come up with some kind of cute or funny story that is on the subject, yet deflects the child from the direct question and makes them decide for themselves. Sometimes I do have the presence of mind to ask, "what do you think?" but Sweet Pea will always tell me what she thinks and then ask again for the real answer.

I also don't want to lie to my kids. But I DO want to provide them with a sense of childhood wonder. You know, while they're wee. What is the answer? How do you deal with this sort of thing with your children?


Lori said...

We come across questions like these frequently with Faith. She has asked if the Princess at Disneyland are real too. At this point I don't really know what she thinks. For example, she knows some people don't believe in Santa Claus because she's learned there is no Santa Claus in other countries. I try to be realistic with her in general but with these creatures relating to childhood wonder I've learned to say things like - "Well they are real only if you believe they are real" -- in the case of Santa Claus, "he won't deliver presents to you if you don't believe in him!" You can always say people long ago believed in them (whatever creature or such) and believed they've seen them but you haven't seen them yourself.

The other day we ate at Ariel's Grotto and Mika wanted to see Flounder but we told her Flounder is a fish so he won't be able to walk into the restaurant to see us. Faith, instead, asks why can't someone just dress in a Flounder costume and come into the restaurant! So I don't know how much she believes in the princesses at Disneyland at this point -- she did see someone in a Flounder costume at Disney on Ice. We think she's just playing along with us sometimes but I'm afraid to ask and deal with the questions more in depth at this point :-)

Donna said...

You do what you did: weigh each incident and follow your instincts. There is no right and wrong in these matters. You just know your child and go with your gut. She won't lose her sense of wonder or love of the fantasy, even as she learns what that means.

Christina said...

We haven't reached this stage yet. Cordy doesn't really see the line between real and imaginary yet. She believes in monsters (partially because daddy is often the "daddy monster"), but she thinks most monsters are nice. After all, Elmo and Cookie Monster are nice.

I have no advice on this one, but look forward to seeing where this goes for you so I can get some tips on dealing with it eventually. :)

Victoria Marinelli said...

You know, as parental slip-ups go, this isn't too terrible. Annalisa, my eight year old, just a few weeks ago asked me - out of nowhere! - why, back when she was going to Second Pres (preschool, so this was years ago), after I picked her up one day, I'd yelled at another driver "You stupid @#$%^&*!" (here she used actual cuss word) in the context of a contentious traffic situation.

My God, that child's memory is (inconveniently) long.

But anyway, your sitch. My guess is, this too shall pass. Kids inherently want to believe in stuff like fairies, so I'm sure next time she loses a tooth, you can find some way of rationalizing the veracity of same. :)