Vampires Versus The Tooth Fairy: How Do You Talk About Storybook Monsters With Your Kids?
"Haley's a vampire, Mommy. She told me."
Haley is six years old. According to Emilia, who is four, Haley knows pretty much everything that there is to know. Which, I suppose, is not surprising, if she's a vampire. She's had centuries to figure out the workings of the world, and presumably that would include daycare centers.
"Did Haley explain what a vampire is?"
"Yeah. Vampires drink blood, and they sparkle. Haley sparkles, Mommy! She has glitter! She gave me some! Can I be a vampire, too?"
I didn't have the heart to tell her that if she won't eat meatballs or chicken fingers, she probably won't drink blood, either.
Really, though, the problem is this: If I'm committed to encouraging my daughter's imagination and love of story and fantasy, how do I treat the fantastical stories that her playmates come up with? Do I treat vampires differently than I do, say, the Tooth Fairy or the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus? Why am I so tempted to discriminate on the basis of (seeming) monstrosity? If Haley told Emilia that she was an elf, I wouldn't have hesitated: I'd simply have asked whether Emilia thought that Haley was an elf, and what she thought of Haley's story, etc. But vampires? My immediate temptation was to insist that there's no such thing as vampires. My secondary temptation was to run up to the den and hide all my Twilight and True Blood novels.
Why is this? Because vampires are scary? Maybe. But isn't the point of Elmo and Grover and Cookie Monster to demonstrate that monsters -- creatures who are different -- are not necessarily scary? That just because someone has pointier teeth or scruffier fur or a penchant for garbage or, say, a tendency to sparkle in the sunlight doesn't make them bad. Sure, four years old is maybe a bit young to understand that Bram Stoker's Dracula and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and Grover's The Monster At The End Of This Book are commentaries on the politics of difference, but isn't the point basically the same as the one that's at the core of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer? Different doesn't -- shouldn't -- mean scary? But then again, aren't some stories meant to get the message across that scary does sometimes mean scary? I mean, aren't we meant to be afraid of the big bad wolf when he crosses Red Riding Hood's path or huffs and puffs at the Three Pigs' houses? Are vampires worse/scarier/more dangerous than the big bad wolf? What does this mean for Team Jacob? And when can I let my girl watch Buffy, anyway?
I'm not saying that I'm considering reading the Twilight series aloud to my daughter, nor that I'd be comfortable going into a detailed explanation of the plotlines of the Sookie Stackhouse novels. I guess that I am saying that I need to give some thought to where I draw the line -- whether I need to draw a line at all -- on certain kinds of fantasy when it comes to discussing matters of imagination and story with my (still quite small) children.
In the meantime, we're going to be declining any invitations to Haley's house for dinner.
What do you think? Do you -- would you -- keep your small kids in the dark about the types of characters in your favorite fantasy stories? Is it okay for them to believe in fairies and elves and the Snuffleupagus -- but not werewolves and vampires? Do you hide your Sookie novels? Or ... ?
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