I chose a new book for read-alouds over the phone with my grandson. Jasper is almost 7, a big first grader, and less and less amenable to leave his computer game and come to the phone to talk with Grandma. And I get it, I wouldn’t want to either. So I was looking for a new thing to share, a ritual we could repeat, and something that would seem cool to this Harry Potter, Avatar, Minecraft-loving kid. My plan was to have an older chapter book for him and picture books for his little sister Penny. I imagined reading to one while the other was in the bath, and vice versa.
I love folk tales, so I invested in a new volume- Nordic Tales, from Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland, and Denmark. Sounded fun for me, too, to learn some new ones. I love folktales because I feel they have deep psychic resonance. They have lasted, shared orally through generations, because they speak to universal human passages and problems. I have read The Uses of Enchantment by Bruno Bettleheim and in a past life written an analysis of the ballet Sleeping Beauty, stating confidently that the pricking of her finger on the spindle represents first menstrual bleeding and the long sleep is the period of maturing required before sexual awakening. So you can see that I am an educated and thoughtful Grandma!
Well, you know what they say about the best laid plans. Instead of one child at a time I end up reading both books to both children. The Nordic folktales are long and almost without pictures, but of course little sister won’t be swayed from her seat at the sofa, listening intently. I pre-read and choose my tale carefully. One evening I read a story about a rescued fox that so cleverly helps the poor young woodsman trick his way into marrying the princess and taking a castle away from a dragon. Another day we have the story of another humble young woodsman finding a wife. His father instructed the three brothers to each cut down a tree and travel in the direction the tree fell, to find their brides. Our hero brother finds a delicate little mouse who is eager to be wooed by him, and who (can you guess?) turns back into a princess upon becoming beloved to the kind young man.
A little while later, after my two read alouds, little Penny asks plaintively at bedtime, “Mommy, will you make me grow up and get married?”
Many reassurances ensued- growing up is slow and far away. No one can make you get married. You never have to get married if you don’t want to. You can’t marry your mommy or your daddy but Mommy and Daddy will always be your Mommy and Daddy, forever and ever. Penny apparently was reassured because her thoughts then turned to the good side, perhaps, of being a grown up (if indeed you didn’t have to get married.) Like, you could eat as many strawberry gummies as you choose, and not have them doled out by someone else. Like, you could open the refrigerator door whenever you want to!
I got to thinking about how we build up to being grown up. We don’t fall into a deep sleep for years like in the fairy tales, waking up ready for our happy ending. We have to get there bit by bit, like practicing. And even so- do we ever feel as if we have actually arrived?
Here’s are some thoughts, in answer to Penny, about getting to be a grown up-
- Wiping your own bum is practicing to be a grown up.
- Stopping yourself from stomping down your brother’s legos when you are mad at him, is really good practice for being a grown up.
- Choosing a sparkly gift for Mommy on her birthday that you really like too, and then sharing it with Mommy is learning to be a grown up.
But you can still-
- Get carried when you are tired.
- Borrow Daddy’s pretty blue scarf when you are cold.
- Count on a rescue in the swimming pool when you jump in so bravely but then can’t quite get your head back up out of the water.
Growing up is scary. But I think the folk tales give us some good advice. If we keep walking through the woods with optimism, and are kind to the animals we encounter, it should work out all right in the end.