One of the ideas that spurred my thinking the most when I read The Boy Who Would be a Helicopter came out of the section where Ms. Paly discusses the use of fairy tales. Here is one of the quotes I copied,
"Perhaps these issues [relating to fairy tales] appear so urgent because they are substitutes for the real thing. The fairy tales, in one way or another, hit squarely at the single most important issue for any child: will I be abandoned? Will it happen to me as it does to the pigs [as in the Three Little Pigs, when there mother sends them off to build their own houses]? How will I recognize when it's about to occur? What can I do to forestall the inevitable?"
Does this strike you as powerfully as it did me? You see, I am the parent to children for whom the worst thing that could happen to them already has. And for one at least, it has happened not once, not twice, but three times. Three times he has experienced the thing that frightens children the most. The questions of 'Will I be abandoned?' and 'How will I recognize when it's about to occur?' and 'What can I do to forestall the inevitable?' are not the hypothetical worryings of a child in a stable environment, but are based in reality. It has happened so many times, what is to stop it from happening again? He doesn't need fairy tales to substitute as the real thing, he has experienced it first hand.
This is not new news for me, but it still has the power to stop me in my tracks every time I really think about it. Yet this is not where my thinking stopped. I couldn't get the connection to fairy tales out of my head. I think this is because out of all my children, this child is the only one who doesn't tell stories. He doesn't make up little dialogues to go along with his play. He does not just come up with stories. (This is including H. whom I overheard the other day playing with little toys and narrating a story, which was obviously working out some recent events, as she played by herself. I wanted to cheer, but I kept quiet because I didn't want to know that I was listening.) As we were working on our book writing these past few months, the only thing he could really do was to repeat back a story we had read together changing minor details to make it his. Since this imitation-phase is on the path to learning originality, I didn't worry about it too much, but it has made me think.
I have watched enough children narrate their play to know that there is much processing that happens through it. I have watched children turn scary stories into ones they can handle. What if you do not have the capacity to turn a scary story into a manageable one? It remains scary and because it is too much to handle it is stuffed down inside a place where you don't have to think about it.
I think this is an important skill because it does two things. First, our stories are really the only way we have in thinking about what happens to us. We communicate by sharing stories. Pay attention and see if I'm not right. For instance, someone mentions something, and another person will chime in with a story they know that relates to that, then another person will share another story, and so on and so on. Using stories is even how God chooses to communicate with us. The Bible is just one really long story with a lot of different parts. We use stories to make sense of life. How many times when in the midst of some crisis or unpleasantness do you think in the back of your head, "Well, at least it will make a good story at some point"? It is the stories we tell about ourselves that shape how we view ourselves. If you are disconnected from your own stories because they are too scary, then you are disconnected from yourself.
Second, if you are adept at handling stories, you can take on the role of author and reframe them into something that is better, or at least is something that is manageable. This isn't lying, but thinking about things from a different perspective... there is always more than one point of view to a story. But this is a skill and it often needs to be practiced on things a little less personal than one's own story.
So where am I going with all of this? I have decided that this summer we are going to have a 'fairy tale boot camp' around here. Fairy tales really do deal with the scary things of life. I think it's why adults do not tend to like them or at least feel the need to water them down. Some of them really are horrifying. But they also give children the chance to deal with these scary things in a form that is controllable and very separate from their experiences. If you can have practice fooling around with endings and plot and scene of fairy tales, then it gives you the practice to reframe the scary experiences of your own life.
We're starting with one of the most benign fairy tales, Goldilocks and the Three Bears. (If you're looking for a copy of this from my library, you may be out of luck. I think I checked out every version they have.) I thought first we would look at all the different ways various authors have told the story; how each of them are a little different, but it's still the same story. Then I'm going to make use of my printer and laminater (Yeah) and copy various characters and objects from the books and practice telling the story with them. I may make figures for each fairy tale, I'll have to see how things go. I also may also make laminated shapes in various colors to practice telling the story with those as well. (I'll blog more about this later this week. It's based on a fascinating book called, Pictures This: How Pictures Work by Molly Bang.)
I want to give a lot of practice with stories. We won't write them down. We'll pretty much read and play. Sounds like a great summer activity, huh?