When we were on our glorious and much-missed vacation, we moseyed on over to the delightful local library. And what a library it was. Cool and orderly, with numerous comfortable spots to curl up with the book of your choice. The children's section was in a whole separate room, so people could read aloud to the clamoring hordes and not disturb anyone. And downstairs was a large, spooky, wonderful, empty space that housed their "book sale," along with a wooden checkers set where Chestnut and I fought a long bloody battle. (Figuratively, of course.)
Being the lazy irresponsible relaxed parent of a 12-year-old and a 10-year-old, I was chilling out on a soft chair in the kid's room, waiting for people to make their selections, when a beleaguered mother of three, count 'em three, kids showed up. All 5 or under. They were (inadvertently) torturing her, the littlest guy smacking the other guy on the head with a wooden train, the 4 or maybe 5-year-old girl begging for a story to be read aloud, no not later now, NOW NOW NOW. It was, you know, life, and I pretty much tuned out (it may be that I had a beer with lunch). And when I tuned back in, here is what I heard:
"…and their mother always favored the older daughter, and never the younger. To her older daughter she gave the choicest morsels, and the finest clothes, while the younger daughter had to subsist on scraps from their table and torn rags. The younger daughter was forced to wait on and serve the mother and her elder sister, and never received a kind word from either. When they beat her…."
You can pretty much tell how it went from there. And I don't know if this is a consequence of having missed that essential "Once upon a time" but BOY did it strike me: this is actually how most kids see their lives. It sounded like many a wailing complaint I've heard (or given, in my own youth). It sounded, more than anything, so unbelievably whiny. It made me think of fairy tales in a different light; it's all about point of view, which I guess I always knew but somehow never fully grasped. If you hear "Once upon a time," you somehow accept that you're in a world with a voice of truth: the one you're hearing. But omitting that framing omniscience, for me at least, gave me a crazy new window onto what the story actually was: it's not FAIR! writ large.
I've written before about siblings and unfairness in stories, but it never struck me before how one-sided the stories can be. I suppose this is the seed for all those modern responses: Wicked and Mirror, Mirror and the like. I don't know if I will ever be able to hear a fairy-tale in that truly believing way I once did.
Has this happened to anyone else? Are fairy-tales so appealing for kids because they echo their visions of an unfair world?