Three months ago, my daughter was driving with my 4-year-old granddaughter in her car seat; the radio was on. Someone started describing a recent horror: A man had locked himself in his house with his two sons, splashed gasoline around and burned all three of them to death.
My daughter quickly turned the station off to protect her 4-year-old from the awful details of the Josh Powell case. My granddaughter pleaded, “Mommy, could I listen to the radio?”
She’d been following it all along, apparently closely. The news was telling her something about the world she was growing up in. Four-year-olds want to figure out the world.
When I was growing up, Howdy Doody was still on TV. When the show came on, we’d sing: “It’s Howdy Doody Time/It isn’t worth a dime./So go to Channel 9,/And watch Frankenstein.”
Many children – not all – are eager to learn about the dark side of life. As parents, we wish they weren’t eager. We wish there weren’t a dark side of life to begin with. But it’s there, and there’s no escaping it.
Maurice Sendak, who died this morning, wrote and illustrated children’s books that addressed dark themes head-on. My favorite is “Where the Wild Things Are,” which recounts Max’s adventures with fanged, clawed, horned Wild Things, which the boy ultimately tames and rules – before sailing home to eat dinner. It’s a whole lot of fun for kids, and the fun part isn’t when he comes home.
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