Monday, June 21, 2010

Life, Death, and Chipmunks

I have an unsympathetic little lot of children. Over the past two days we have repeatedly seen an injured chipmunk wandering heedlessly around the driveway and flowerbeds, collapsing in exhaustion in unsafe places. I asked B6 to put it in the bushes once, but it crawled back out again. It had a large gash in it side.

This afternoon it finally died and I buried it.

Now, my understanding is that at this point one's tender-hearted small children are supposed to be tearing up, mourning the chipmunk, demanding full application of last rites and a proper burial.

Not mine. They weren't gleeful, just curious. "How can you tell whether it's breathing?" "Where are you going to bury it?" "Why not bury it in the flower bed?" "You shouldn't bury people in the woods, right?" (Not under most circumstances . . . ) "Do people live longer than animals?" "Can I ride the shovel back?"

I could hold out hope that the twins will prove more sympathetic in their day, but since I caught D3 wandering around the yard, wielding a sword and muttering, "Where da slugs? I dunna till dem!" the other day, it would be faint hope indeed.

The good side of this is that it leaves our entertainment options a bit broader. Neither death nor danger are off-limits, within reason. So we let the older ducklings watch The Princess Bride as their first full-length movie. D1 took it all in stride; D2 got big-eyed at the scarier parts, but was eager to go on once we had paused the movie and reassured him that we had seen the end and it all came out all right. He also seemed to derive great comfort from passing moral judgments on the movie characters: if someone did something bad, then to label it as bad made it significantly less threatening.

I've never subscribed to the theory that we should shield children altogether from the existence of evil and sorrow, but sometimes I have a twinge that such neat, fairytale plotlines are far too simplistic: the "bad guys" get punished, the "good guys" live happily ever after, and it all comes out OK in the end. Is it fair to tell that to children when such things often don't happen in this world?

Then again, I also believe that this world is not the end of the story, and that the reason we thirst so much for the happy ending is because we are creatures made to see it. That Judgment Day is not just a threat, but a promise of all wrongs righted and all evils undone. That Someone has seen the whole thing and is whispering to us that it all comes out right in the end. The fairy tale is not wrong; we're just still waiting to storm the castle.


Aaron Klein said...

WHAT? The bad guys don't always get punished and the good guys don't always win?

You are crushing this 31-year-old's view of the world.

Anonymous said...

Nice twist - and true.

And remind me to stay out of the woods when you're around.

the Joneses said...

Well, maybe slugs are bad guys. Even the women have to defend the homestead, after all.

You should keep this one on hand. With that conclusion, it would make a fine essay.

-- SJ