I just started reading The Wide Awake Princess by E.D. Baker. It’s a new twist on an old tale. Sleeping Beauty, to be exact. The Wide Awake Princess is the story of her sister, Annie, a princess who is immune to magic both good and evil. When Sleeping Beauty pricks her finger and the whole castle falls asleep for 100 years, Princess Annie is the only one left awake.
I’ve only just made it through the prologue,but I had to stop and write this down before I lost it. See, we all know that fairy tales are parables. These old folk tales were ways of passing hard-won wisdom to new generations. Most people assume that they are meant for children, and that the lessons in them are there to teach children things like don’t talk to strangers. But reading this book and remembering the story of Sleeping Beauty, I suddenly realized something – it’s a parable for adults.
I mean, the princess – sleeping beauty – doesn’t do anything wrong. She’s born, an angry fairy curses her, she lives under house arrest for 16 years and then is tricked into fulfilling her curse. What’s the lesson in that?
At first it seems like a story of fate, of being unable to escape one’s destiny, and that is they way it is usually told and taught. BUT – I suddenly realized tonight that we have it all wrong, because we’ve been looking at what it was supposed to be teaching the children, instead of what it was trying to teach the parents. Sleeping Beauty is the ultimate recrimination against Helicopter Parents, and the ultimate vindication of Free Rangers.
Allow me to elaborate, because there are many parallels between this story and what is happening to our children right now.
Kind loving parents have their first child. They want the best for her, so they invite all the fairies to her christening. (Can I comment on the ironic blend of Christianity and Magic there, hardly anyone ever comments on that… Really the whole fairy godmother vs the witch genre is intriguing, but that’s a different post.)
They forget one crotchety old fairy who curses the baby instead of blessing her and then… They panic.
Now here’s the parallel, the old fairy curses the baby by threatening her with harm from a common household item – a spinning wheel. (These days that would be like telling someone their daughter was going to be put to sleep for 100 years by a cell phone.) So, what do the kind, loving parents do?
Do they teach their daughter about spinning wheels? Do they tell her about her curse? Do they try to keep the baby safe from spinning wheels and then as she gets older, slowly make her aware of them and the risk they pose to her?
Nope. They panic and they burn all the spinning wheels in the whole kingdom and ban them outright to make sure no new ones are made or imported. (Ruining an entire industry and putting countless people out of work – but no one ever talks about that either…)Now, they don’t ban any of the countless other items in the kingdom that could harm their new baby, like fires, carriages, horses, knives… the list goes on. Just the one benign item that they have suddenly been told to fear.
A similar thing is happening today with our children. Any time there is the slightest hint of danger or risk from a common, formerly benign household object, all of the “responsible” adults panic and ban the thing.
So now, kids can’t bring butter knives to school for their lunch (possible weapon), in some schools kids aren’t even allowed to bring their own pencils anymore. We have to keep our kids in car seats even though the science tells us that past the age of 2 they are not at any safer in a car seat than in a regular seatbelt. There is a group trying to ban a certain type of crib because 40 children have died in them over the past ten years. (Mind you no one is outlawing cars which kill many times that number of children each day…)
So, what happened with Sleeping Beauty? Well, she turned 16 and saw her first spindle. She was curious and so she was easily tricked into touching it and fulfilling the curse.
Now, what if, instead of banning spinning wheels from the kingdom her parents had actually educated her about them? Then, perhaps, when she saw the old fairy at the spinning wheel she wouldn’t have been so curious, she wouldn’t have been so easily fooled, and perhaps she would have been able to resist the curse.
And that is how fear wins – through ignorance. We can combat fear with knowledge. It’s something I try to do daily. I have a highly aggressive reaction to fear. It’s taken me a long time to realize that it’s abnormal. Sure there are certain fears that trigger my flight response, but most of the time when I realize that fear is what is motivating me I spin it around and kick it in the nuts. If I know I’m going to have to do something terrifying, I prepare myself as best I can and then I take a deep breath and I just do it.
There’s a great exhibit at the Pacific Science Center in Seattle, it’s a single railroad track up about 20 feet in the air. They have a bicycle with a counter weight on it that you can ride along the track. The first time I did it I pedaled about three strokes to get my momentum going and then I took my hands off the handle bars, waved at my kids and said “Look girls, no hands!” When I finished my ride, the woman running it said, “Wow, you must come here often.” I told her it was my first time, she was shocked. No one lets go their first time on the track. I just laughed and told her I knew their insurance company wouldn’t let them really put me at risk. I feel the same way at amusement parks. I mean, sure, there are freak accidents. But hell, I could choke on dinner too. We’re not going to outlaw that.
Death is going to happen to all of us. Sickness, injury, discomfort… These are all part of life. They’re the ultimate price of admission. We have to stop being so afraid that something might happen, because it will, and just start living. And we really have to let our children live. We can’t protect them from everything, not even close. The best thing we can do is arm them with knowledge so that they too can smile and ride through life hands free!