While perusing the stacks in the children’s library a familiar title jumped out at me - The Five Chinese Brothers by Claire Huchet Bishop and Kurt Wiese.
I couldn’t recall exactly what the book was about, I just remembered that I had loved it as a kid, so I put it in the bag and brought it home. That night I told my boys I had a great story for them, and we sat down to read of the antics of these five identical brothers, each of whom has a unique superpower.
The story opens with the dramatic, accidental drowning of a small child. Not exactly my go-to material for bedtime stories, but I persevered, assuming that the plot must get less horrific later on.
Well, you know what they say about people who assume - they traumatize their children with tales of Super-Asians who use their freakish abilities to avoid being killed by an angry mob. The book goes on to detail four attempted executions – a beheading, a drowning, a burning, and a smothering. Good night kids, sleep tight, don’t let the riled up villagers bite…
After the attempted beheading I turned to my boys and said ‘Mommy made a mistake, she thought this book was about teddy bears and love, but it is about crazy people who get their kicks writing horror stories disguised as children’s literature. Let’s go read about that excitable pigeon who wants to drive the bus.’
But they were enthralled. Killing, superpowers, clever guys who win, and misguided country folk who are repeatedly fooled – for the under 9 set this book had it all.
Thoroughly sickened by the third execution attempt, I tried again to quit in the middle. But they begged, and I am a sucker for children who can agree on a book, even if the subject matter is excessively violent and vaguely racist. So I read through to the happily ever after.
When the kids were in bed I stuck the book in the bottom of the library bag so I would not have to read it again. But these children, who can’t seem to find their socks while staring into their sock drawers, launched a full blown search and recovery mission to find the book so I could reread it the following night and every subsequent night for the past 3 weeks.
The peace loving, non-violent agenda I have been pushing on my children for all these years has been instantly undone by Ms. Bishop and Mr. Wiese who, according to the copyright date, have been poisoning the minds of children since 1938. My children have fallen into their grasp and are obviously doomed to be violent, blood thirsty, and literarily stunted from reading the same book over and over again.
But then I remembered that it was I who had chosen this book. I called my mother to get more information. ‘Oh you loved that book. I don’t remember what it was about, but I know I read it to you over and over again.’
And that’s when it hit me. As parents we think we hold sway over who our children will become, but in reality nothing we do matters. Despite my childhood exposure to this savage tale I grew into a non-aggressive, though somewhat sarcastic adult. It must be that the opposite could possibly be true – children who are shielded from inappropriate books and television may likely grow up to be barbarians.
So I give up. Eat cookies for breakfast. Dog fight, take up smoking, and drink Vanilla Coke. If there are no guarantees that my children will grow into happy, productive adults, then why argue with them over their poor judgment?
From now on I will simply let them do whatever they want. As long as what they want is to be read to every night by their mother who loves them. And on the condition that they speak nicely, apologize when they do something wrong, and keep their faces clean. Oh, and they have to always be safe and smart and let me kiss them. I may be raising barbarians, but I’ll be darned if they make me look bad.