Isn't the innocence of children astounding? How long can we protect that innocence and hold it dear? How long can we encourage a deep sense of wonder, a belief in things not seen, a hope that the impossible is actually possible?
A few days ago Olivia watched a Barbie movie (yes, Barbie) about spies. She was enamored! Barbies with disguises, magical powers, cool gadgets, and awesome tricks. Barbie to the rescue! After she was finished watching it, as she does with many movies or shows, she wanted to BE the movie. She wanted to put on a cape, practice flying off of the window seat, pretend to rescue someone. It was adorable, but somehow more than adorable. She was all in. At bedtime she told me she wanted to be a superhero when she grows up. And something in me felt compelled to tell her that superheroes aren't real. Of course I did it in a loving way, hoping not to make her sad, but no such luck. She was shocked, truly shocked, and then truly devastated. She cried and cried. She insisted she could already fly a little. She simply did not understand how something so wonderful could not be real. I was heart broken. Oh, if you could have seen her eyes and heard her voice. "Superheroes aren't real? But I want to be a superhero! Why can't I?"
Why did I tell her the truth? It's not as if I have this strong moral compass leading me to break down fairy tales and myths for her. We encourage the belief in Santa and even fairies! What was it about her wanting to grow up and be a superhero that gave me pause? I know she will be upset and possibly devastated upon learning the truth about Santa. I know she will one day stop looking for fairies. Was I trying to protect her actual body this time? Knowing she wanted to try to fly. Picturing a broken arm or bruised body? As soon as I said the words I regretted them. I wanted to give her back that piece of innocence. Which caused me to wonder. How long can and should we protect that? When do children need to know certain truths about fairy tales and magic? And beyond that, when do you introduce ugly reality that you WISH weren't real, but in the long run is important for your sweet, innocent little child to know? When watching Bambi, at what point do you explain the mean hunting dogs? When watching a documentary about penguins, at what point do you explain, rather than fast forward, the seals, the frozen babies, the hawks? Pain, death, the circle of life, the fact that cartoons aren't real?! Where is the balance between encouraging innocence and wonder and letting your kids become naive about reality? What will they find out on their own and what do they need help learning? Is there a magic age or situation? I know it's different for all children and parents and families. I know we will figure it all out, too. But goodness knows there is a big piece of me that would like Olivia's whole life, whole world to be one big, magical, flying animated movie!