2.09.2013

Tinkerbell and Social Land Mines

tink lunchbox “Tinkerbell lunchboxes are for babies."

So my third-grader was told by a peer in the lunchroom this week. I may have told her to tell the classmate that she happened to have an extra knuckle-sandwich in her Tinkerbell lunchbox that day, and would she like one?

That was me half-joking with my daughter, half-growling, hackles up.

Third grade. Tinkerbell has evidently fallen out of favor with that age group, unbeknownst to me. I suppose all the Disney princesses are on the outs now, too. Not cool enough, it seems. One would think that pretty dresses and fairy dust would be enough to ensure a spot in the in-crowd forever, but not so for poor Tink and her socially-scorned group of gorgeous girls whose dreams always come true. They've been traded in for the Disney channel and Taylor Swift, notoriously serial dater with broken dreams that she is “never ever ever getting back together” with her exes.

And then, back at school this week, came this comment from a classmate, upon my kid's disclosure of her 20-Cinderella-valentines-in-box-plus-a-sticker-tattoo planned course of action for V-Day: "No way are you gonna give ME a Cinderella valentine."

That interchange prompted a hasty switch to a much-safer "puppies and kittens" theme. Why puppies and kittens are more acceptable than big C, I still don't understand. But whatever.

I remember playing with dolls until age 11. Maybe that was late by today's standards, but I felt no shame and have no regrets. Then middle school happened, and with it came the force of change in tastes and interests that is expected and natural. But I sure don't remember anybody telling me in third grade that Barbie and the likes of her were not okay.

If I were in a situation where I needed a lunchbox every day, I would like to pack up a Disney princess one and carry it myself in full view of my daughter and the world, so she could see that at age 36, even I can like the Disney girls, and I don't care who knows it. I want her to be free to like what she wants to like in third grade, without having her tastes dictated to her by peers who are in an awful big hurry to grow up. Those little kids don't realize that once they get all grown, they can't go back. As I read on Jon Acuff's blog recently, you can always fast-forward childhood, but you can't rewind it. When she's ready to put away childish things, I will be there to pack them away, like the Toy Story mom. But I want it to be on her terms.

Someone commented to me the other day that adults are relentlessly plundering children's stories these days for their own purposes - Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland, the new Wizard of Oz coming this summer, the Once Upon a Time series on TV, and others. We'd sure like to go back to childhood, but the only way we can go there is to go through a veneer that is still decidedly adult in nature. Because that is what we are.

Do you remember what it was like to be caught between wanting to be little and wanting to be big? It's a tightrope that children walk from the time they are toddlers until the time they graduate, and they have to walk it themselves. We can call out to them and talk to them while they're up there on it, offering whatever advice and encouragement we can from below, but they are the ones who are shakily making their way across - Tinkerbell at one end, adulthood at the other, and a whole bunch of land mines in between. They need sympathy and understanding. They need wise words in their ears. They need earnest prayers going up for them.

And they need extra knuckle-sandwiches in their lunchboxes. Pack them carefully.

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