What Short Stack Gets, Part 2

Some idiot widow (widiot?), grieving the most minor kind of celebrity loss, thought it would be okay to show her 5-year-old the Thriller video.

Last year Short Stack and I spent a lot of energy on what is “in this world” versus what is imaginary, focusing on monsters in the dark and all the goofy denizens of Scooby Doo. I talk about this in my post about my daughter’s grief/learning curve. She’s mostly clear on the boundaries, although the other day she inspected the box for her Disney Princess scooter and pointed out the blurry amoeba of the “copyright” sign next to the Disney script. “Maybe that’s Tinkerbell’s magic wand?” “Uh, I guess it could be,” I prevaricated. “So fairies are real!” she concluded happily. At this age, I don’t expect all the seams to be tucked in.

And as I describe in that previous post, I haven’t told her what graveyards are for, although I’m pretty sure she gets the basics, thanks to Samantha who buried her cat in the backyard (and, uh, thanks for debunking Santa, too, sweetie!) and the pervasive icon of the tombstone, even on a pizza commercial. It’s supposed to be pretty terrifying to kids up to some age that people are buried in dirt, because kids don’t quite believe that you can know for sure if the person is really, really, really dead. So monsters -- check, but zombies? Let’s just say they are transitional. I’ve sort of explained it and she sort of understands it.

But this year we’re taking several more steps in the ladder that separates fantasy from reality. She’s seeing more, and I’m letting her see more. The main conflict at this level is how to tell what is real when some things are drawn and others are photographs. (Never mind that photos always show something in the past, when they look like “right now,” and all the time confusion at this age; or that her father, an artist, often worked in a quasi-photo-Realist mode. Those issues add only a little fuzziness to this picture.)

Still, I had not remembered that the Thriller ghouls claw their way out of the dirt in vivid color. As the few escaped the moonlit plastic graveyard, I hurried to explain that this movie is pretend, even though it looks completely real. “Those are dancers and actors wearing costumes and lots of makeup to make them look scary, they are not monsters and zombies for real.” “… and they wearing wigs?” She was interested.

“Is this a hand-me-down movie?” she asked. I was a little offended... “on-demand” is not exactly free TV. “No, I mean it’s pretty old, but… what do you mean?” “Is like it drawed?” Oh! Animated. “Yes, they made this movie by mixing photographs with drawing.” “They drawed them together?” “Sort of, it’s called ‘special effects.’”

As we watched the rest of the video she pointed out which elements she thought were drawn. She didn’t seem too scared, watching it in my lap, and when it was over we started to play with her new hair-do Barbie. I was reassured. Good mommy, nice mommy, responsible mommy.

“Could that movie ever come true?”

“No, it can never happen in real life. It was all pretend and imagination. Even though it looked real.”

“But Mommy, dreams do come true, for real!” Who wants to burst that bubble?

“Yes, good dreams can come true if you work really, really hard, but bad dreams cannot come true.”

“What if someone wished really, really hard, over and over again?”

Winging it: “No sweetie, those monsters and that scary story, and bad dreams that people sometimes have, cannot ever come true in real life, no matter how hard someone wishes for it. And good dreams come true but you also have to work to make them happen in real life.” She seemed satisfied and we started to clip the 6’ scale purple braids to Barbie’s head.

What will Short Stack think when she’s older, when she hears how MJ lived in a fantasy land all his life? How he morphed his supple, beautiful dancing body and became a mere shell filled with soul. I showed her the early Jackson 5 stage appearances on YouTube, holding my breath lest she ask why he looked so different. I guess to her, adulthood brings so many radical changes (she’s extremely upset about my large pores, which she insists are wrinkles) that his new nose wouldn’t raise an eyebrow.

Wouldn’t it be great if she could grow up without understanding why someone would wish to change the color of his skin, or erase the signs of his father in his face? She’s rarely seen someone smoke and I don’t think she’s ever seen a fur coat.

Our children force us to see that the world does change. Michael Jackson -- who I did truly love as a fan until about 1986 -- will always be an example of the tragedy it is to not find your satisfaction and joy in this world. In my own childhood I learned that dreams can help you stay sane when this world is not interested in who you really are. My daughter reminds me every day that it’s never too late to play. Any reality can include some flight through imagination.

But if you hear those hellhounds on your tail, ask a friend, anyone, to pinch you. Will yourself awake with all your heart before the demons can break through to this one blessed, lovely, real world.

* * * Comments * * *


Kim Hamer said...

Thanks for posting on my blog. I know I'm not alone, it's just in the depth of this journey I forget!


Abigail said...

Great post. I had similar conversations with my son. One in particular that I remember when he was about the same age as your daughter. How does your soul fit in your body, is it invisible, did daddy have a soul, etc. Its all part of being a widowed parent I guess. Helping kids understand death and what it really means.
I had a big problem after the soul/angel conversation when I told my son that his father was watching over him. My son began having nightmares and many months later I discovered it was because he thought ghosts were watching him. Sometimes best intentions go awry with kids...

Roads said...

Yes, tricky stuff all round. I can equate since I must say that 'Thriller' video has always made me feel slightly uneasy, too -- however brilliant it was.

A girlfriend of that time played the album endlessly, and so I've never felt the need to hear it since.

Perhaps the fantastic appeal of that record was more a female thing? Certainly for me, I lost MJ soon after 'Blame it on the Boogie.'


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