Monday, October 20, 2008

There Are Fairies at the Bottom of the Garden

“There are fairies at the bottom of the garden.” Rose Fyleman knew, and so did I. When I had children, I made sure THEY knew, too. Children who grow up without fairies in their lives have had an extremely important aspect of their psyches neglected.

The fairies in our garden lived in the columbines, just like Emily Starr’s fairies. L.M. Montgomery knew, too! When you see columbines in a garden, you know you’ve found someone else who KNOWS. Step carefully in the summertime, dear barefoot children. The fairies like to loll about, and soft green grass makes lovely fairy-size tunnels for napping.

There were fairies everywhere, and my children adored the very thought of that. Some of the fairies even lived in our big dollhouse, although most of them preferred the flower beds. We even pretended that Anne Perez-Guerra’s “Poppy” lived in the kitchen, and slept on the sponge.

But of all the fairies in my library and in my flowers, none compared to the fairy in one book, particularly.

When I was in the third grade, I read "Peter Pan." It's not all the sugar-coated cuteness Disney would have you believe, my friends. It's a wonderful and fascinating and intimate look into the brain and psyche of children of various ages AND their parents. It's accurate and hilarious and downright scary.

It's full of analogies and symbols and beautiful mind-art that permits us to share the fantasies of other people.

It's a peek into how different good and evil are from one another, and how distressingly alike they can sometimes be, and how one will often present itself as the other.

Captain Hook stresses good form and lovely manners and the fine points of etiquette even while murdering children.

The mermaids are beautiful and their singing is lovely and they are mean, vicious little wenches who try to kill Wendy.

The Indians are presented in what would, nowadays, be considered a disgracefully stereotypical way, but unlike many supposedly intelligent adults in these modern times, children still have a sense of the context of the times and can see through it to what it was meant to be.

And Tink, oh my wonderful Tink. . . . she was the exact opposite of what all the other fairies living in my head world aspired to be. Tink was REAL. Tink got down and dirty. Tink despaired over unrequited love. Tink sparked with jealousy. Tink was a working-class fairy, and really rather a tad bit vulgar at times.

I do not pretend to be a master of Pan interpretation, but I know what I see when I see it myself. I would never presume, unlike many book censors, to say ANYTHING about a book that I had not personally read. (Censors are Satan.)

I bring all of this up to introduce my most vivid memory of this book, in third grade, in Mrs. Emery's class. I had to sit by Tommy, who teased unmercifully, and I was at a loss as to how to deal with him. I was just a little girl who was generally lost in a fantasy world of flowers and fairies, and Tommy was, well, just a BOY.

Then, inspiration hit me. Tinker Bell, my own fabulous Tink, had a saying she used whenever she was angry with Peter Pan. I felt sure I could use this statement on Tommy with success, so I tried it out.

"You silly ass."

You can imagine what happened.

I had no idea what I'd done. I had NO IDEA what I'd said that was so horrible that my teacher whom I loved and adored took me out in the hall and told me how disappointed she was in me and that my parents would have to be notified and that she would have to think about my punishment, as no child had ever done what I had done in her room before.

But what was it that I had done? Was quoting Tinker Bell a crime? And if so, why?

My parents did not curse or call names in our home and I had seen the word 'ass' only in its context as an animal, one of many at the manger when Our Lord was born. Was there something bad about the ass, too? Should it not have been there with the ox and the lamb? Was it a bad animal, and was that why Tinker Bell used its name when she was angry?

Mrs. Emery would not explain. She just kept saying that I knew perfectly well what I had done and since I had chosen to do it, I would have to pay for it.

Whatever she did to me later couldn't possibly be worse than what she was doing to me right then. I didn't know what I'd done. I had quoted Tinker Bell. From "Peter Pan." When Tinker Bell said it in the book, nothing terrible happened. It was her opinion at that moment of whoever was annoying or upsetting her. It seemed to work in the book.

It sure didn't work in third grade, though.

Of course, I knew, even at the time, that because Tinker Bell was low-class, dirty, unschooled, and that even the other fairies looked down on her for her crudeness, some of what she did and said wasn't quite what nice fairies or little girls would have done or said, but I still thought that if it were in a book it couldn't be wrong.

Tommy, you silly ass, why did you have to bother me so that I felt it was necessary to use Tinker Bell against you? If you had just behaved yourself, as I was trying to do, it never would have happened.

But the real silly ass here is Mrs. Emery. For one thing, she was an elementary teacher, a teacher of small children, a college graduate, but she did not recognize the quote even though it was from a famous novel and had been made into a children's movie, and for another, she did not believe a good little girl who tried to explain to her the quotation's source and why it had been used.

All she heard was that a student in HER ROOM had used the word "ass."

When I went home that day, in tears and in a cold dread of what my non-bad-word-using parents would say, I got a surprise.

Dad laughed until he was almost sick, and Mom, while she didn't laugh and I suspect didn't quite understand why Dad was laughing, she at least took my side. Together, they explained that even teachers didn't always read things they really should keep up on if they were going to teach children who read them, and that some children, like annoying Tommy, didn't know any other way to get someone's attention except by pestering them.

I decided on that day that people who pestered for attention weren't worth bothering with, and that if I were ever a teacher, I would stay up nights if that's what it took to keep up with what my students were reading.

Two of the few resolutions I have managed to keep.

Surprisingly, Mrs. Emery remains one of my favorite teachers. I think maybe that learning to 'see through her' so early in the year gave me the ability to understand her a little better. (She was well-meaning but clueless, and it's really not right when a child can figure that out) Certainly it gave me the courage to stand up for myself. It's sad, though, when an eight-year-old child feels maternal and protective toward an adult who is supposed to be in charge. All that year (well, until she got pregnant and was forced to quit because if we kids had seen her looking pregnant we would have known for sure that she'd had sex, not that I would have known what that meant either never having even heard of that word yet) I stayed after school and helped her clean the board, clap erasers (I bet some of you don't know what that means!) and put her files in alphabetical order because (gasp) some of the dimwits in that class didn't even know how to do that and it was supposed to be done at the end of each day and most of the kids would rather just leave their stuff in a mess for the teacher to put to rights so I just did it for her.

She also used to give me a dollar and send me across the VERY BUSY STREET to the gas station for a carton of Big Red pop twice a week. I loved doing that, especially; my parents never let me go inside when they stopped there for gas because it was 'rough.' I didn't know what they meant by that, but I did know that most of those men in there had read "Peter Pan" because they talked about my teacher's ass all the time.

I think everybody should read “Peter Pan,” because every character in it is a gem and Tink is the shizznitz. Tink rocks.

Watch out for the bad language, though. That feisty Tinker Bell will do or say anything to get Peter Pan in her clutches. This includes murdering Wendy.

Sadly, it also forced me to learn a very important lesson: a college degree doesn't make someone a teacher.


This is a post brought to you by Disney's Tinker Bell herself, and by BlogHer.

Buy Now on Disney DVD or Disney Blu-ray



Barking Mad Bites said...

Awwww this was great! Really original and quite brilliant.

Dorothy said...

This is so cute my grandson and I love tinkerbell and we read and watch Peter Pan always.

Dorothy from grammology

Jennie said...

Great story. I have had similar experiences with teachers who didn't recognize a child quoting a book or movie. I think you and I would be friends if we knew each other! The Santa Defender - Jennie