Malli wants assurances about good and evil. Black and white. Good guys and bad guys. He doesn’t cope well with nuance in this arena. He’s all about binary opposition.
I’ve told him that monsters aren’t real. I’ve also told him that zombies aren’t real. I think he watched Michael Jackson’s Thriller video at his friend’s house which prompted four million questions about zombies. The answer to most of those: not real.
Now he would like to extend those simple answers to his long and growing list of potentially scary things. So, unprompted, he’ll say “Mom, pirates aren’t real, right? Bad guys aren’t real.” Well…. not so fast. I like the idea of comforting my kid but do I have to resort to outright lies to do so? Pirates are real. Pirates are just people but they steal from other people. I’ve never met one. They don’t look like the ones you’re thinking of from cartoons or books. The only ones I’ve heard of live far away from here. Bad guys are just people who do bad things. People aren’t good or bad, but people can do good or bad things.
Well, in Malli’s world that kind of talk just leaves way too much room for doubt, uncertainty, and the potential for unwelcome things to appear from dark corners while his mother is in the basement doing the laundry. So if I’m going to try to offer him a simplified but not entirely delusional view of the world instead of the ‘good vs. evil’ answers he’s seeking, I have to be prepared for a whole lot more conversation and little four-year-old shadow outside the door every time I try to go pee alone.
So we talked more. We talked about how pirates take things from other people because they don’t have enough things for themselves. They don’t have enough money to buy the things they need so they take from other people and that’s bad but the pirates aren’t always bad; they’re just people. And maybe their government doesn’t share enough of the money and food that everyone needs so then the pirates go out and take it themselves. He listens attentively. He really wants to make sense of these things and, I’ll admit, I do too. When it seems to overwhelm him I change the subject and we talk about whether or not Mr. Incredible could lift our car (definitely) or our house (not so sure – what about the basement?).
A few days later, out of nowhere, he’ll say: “Pirates steal from other people because they don’t have things themselves…. so if we see a pirate we should just share with them. Then they won’t steal or be bad to us. [long pause] Right?”
That’s as good an idea as any I’ve heard so I give him the answer he wants. “Right.”