For those who think that our kids are growing up in an increasingly violent world, I ask you to revisit the "Children's Stories" of our youths.
Today my kids got a gift from their aunt and uncle, an adorable set of "Peter Rabbit" Beanie Babies, a sticker book and the original book "The Tale of Peter Rabbit" by Beatrix Potter. I excitedly began to read, but stopped abruptly when I got to this part: "Now, my dears," said Old Mrs. Rabbit one morning, "you may go into the fields or down the lane, but don't go into Mr. McGregor's garden. Your Father had an accident there. He was put into a pie by Mrs. McGregor."
Okay, call me "Black Humor Mom" (you wouldn't be the first), but I cracked up. I had completely forgotten that was how Peter's Dad met his fate.
All I could think was, what a great cautionary tale.
Come on, wouldn't we sometimes like to be able to say to our children, "If you go in that dude's garden, you'll get caught, boiled, chopped up into little bits and baked in a crust. So listen to your mother and DON'T GO THERE."
Is it just me, or isn't that bracing, refreshing truth?
This may be coming out of my frustration lately at trying to get my children to obey me on safety issues. My 4 year old son is in this curious/defiant/maddening stage of wanting to run out into the middle of the street without me. I've lectured, 'had a good talk', offered rewards, threatened punishment, but nothing seems to be sinking into that little chestnut head of his.
This is when I want to summon the spirit of Heinrich Hoffman, the wise German daddy who wrote Der Struwwelpeter in 1845. Struwwelpeter is a collection of stories that chronicle the disastrous consequences of children's misbehavior.
Among my favorites are the stories of the little boy who disobeys his mother and goes out in a storm and is blown away by the wind to his doom; the strong healthy kid who refuses to eat his soup and wastes away and dies in five days; and my absolute fave, Die Geschichte vom Daumenlutscher (The Story of Little Suck-a-Thumb) about a boy who keeps sucking his thumb even though his mother tells him to stop. While she's out, a roving tailor comes by and cuts off his thumbs with a giant pair of scissors.
You can bet Heinrich's kids stayed in during storms, ate their soup and stopped sucking their digits.
And if they had the problem of running out into the road by themselves, Heinrich would have probably written a tale of them getting kicked in the head by a passing horse. Should I try the Heinrich route? Should I write a Struwwelpeter for my son?
(Keep in mind that the following would probably be much scarier and more effective in German)
Once upon a time, there was a naughty young lad named Runs-Out-In-The-Street. His loving, frustrated mother would say, "Runs, you naughty young lad! Do you not see the smoky monsters called Car? Do you not know what Car can do to you!" She would then tell him graphic details of blood 'n' guts 'n' brain juice, but Runs-Out-In-The-Street would only giggle and tell fart jokes.
One lovely morning, Runs-Out-In-The-Street was telling his favorite fart joke and neglected to hold his mother's outstretched hand. The smoky monster Car was upon our poor foolish lad in a heartbeat. They found his toes in the glove compartment, his hair in Columbus Park, his elbows on the train set at Quindarella's Big Fun Toy Store, and his butt on the roof of The Clam Broth House. Foolish, foolish Runs-Out-In-The-Street."
Obviously, I've been very frustrated lately.