SillyBilly: Are Hansel and Gretel real?
Mama: (dodging and weaving like #42) That depends on what you mean by “real.”
SillyBilly: Real means real!! (He said this as if he’d already reached the stage where I am a complete idiot. Five going on fifteen, that’s my boy.)
Mama: Remember our conversation about thoughts and feelings being real even though you can’t see or touch them?
Papa: When you feel hungry, is that real?
SillyBilly: YES!!! (As real as our grocery bill. I’m waiting for the day it exceeds our rent. By then I’m sure the owner of our local Chinese food buffet will have made enough off us to buy that vacation house in the Bahamas.)
Mama: But you can’t see your hunger, right?
Papa: So stories are real in the same kind of way. But if you’re asking if there were people named Hansel and Gretel who had an adventure with a witch, then…we don’t know.
SillyBilly: When we die and go up to heaven, we can find out what’s real.
This conversation happened the day after I chose to read the kids Hansel and Gretel while waiting in a doctor’s office. It was really too scary for them: the mother was dead? the stepmother wanted to leave the kids in the forest? the witch wanted to cook the kids and eat them? It’s really a story for ages 6 and up (according to wise Waldorf kindergarten teachers).
But we just couldn’t resist getting all philosophical about “real.” Don’t get me started on The Velveteen Rabbit.
Ed.: I just realized that I had a previous conversation written down that would explain how we had already talked about “real”:
SillyBilly: What’s reality?
(Papa hands off to Mama, even though he’s the philosopher in the family.)
Mama: Some people say that reality is things that we can touch or see, and things like stories and pretending aren’t real.
Papa: But other things like thoughts and feelings are real.
Mama: Some people believe that God is real even though we don’t see him or touch him.
Napoleona: God is a spirit!
SillyBilly: God is the biggest spirit of all.
We were being bad Waldorf parents, using lots of words and abstractions with preschoolers who are more in movement and the will. But on the other hand, we were meeting SillyBilly where he is now. How to balance that?!