“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales”, Albert Einstein is reported to have said. It is not clear that Einstein ever uttered this alleged aphorism. Never mind, I used this as an excuse to get my (now almost 4 y.o.) son “Fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm” and have been reading him stories from the book for a while now.
Now, very early on in my parenting life, I had made up my mind that I would never lie to my son as much as possible, even if it meant that he would get upset or learn things that he supposedly shouldn’t at his age. ‘The Brothers Grimm’ fairy tales book has many stories that would be considered too gruesome for kids. But again, I’m of the Maurice Sendak school of thought here, as far as reading him stories are concerned : If they are not scary, you’re not doing it right. Many of the stories in the book have references to the characters being eaten by animals, getting ready to be boiled to death, contemplating death or outright dying.
Even though I had been reading my son these stories for the past several months, he hadn’t fully comprehended the meaning of death until recently when I was reading him a story called “The three feathers”. In this story, an old King is contemplating which of his three sons would succeed him after his death. This was probably the first story he had heard where death was being referred to without some unnatural thing happening to cause it ( a wolf eating someone, a witch being burned to death etc.)
My son stopped me and asked why the king would die.
Son: Why will the king Die Baba? (that’s what he calls me)
Me: Because he is getting old and people die after they get old.
Son: <Slight pause> Will I die ?
Me: Yes, after you’re very old.
Son: <Distraught> I don’t want to die.
Me: Everybody dies but you have a long long time to go.
<At this point I start explaining to him what I heard on a podcast once. When confronted with the same situation,a parent explained to her child how a seed grows into a tiny plant, has flowers and fruits, grows into a tree that lives a long long time but eventually perishes>
Son: <Sad face. Didn’t care for all that philosophical nonsense> Will I die before Halloween ?
Me: <> No. You have a long way to go.
<Should probably have stopped here>
Me: You see, just like Grandpa is old it will take you a very long time to get old.
Son: Is Grandpa dying ?
By this point in the conversation I was trying to end this as gracefully as I could. Not sure if I succeeded, but he was back to his usual self soon, and we finished the story.
As he now sleeps blisffully, next to me, I end with this quote:
“Little by little wean yourself. This is the gist of what I have to say. From an embryo whose nourishment comes in the blood, move to an infant drinking milk, to a child on solid food, to a searcher after wisdom, to a hunter of invisible game” — Rumi