playgroundsMichaelmas was last week. For a more in-depth review of this somewhat obscure holiday and its meaning in the Waldorf schools, check out this post from last year. Short version: on (or near) September 29, the feast of St. Michael, Waldorf schools host a Michaelmas pageant which tells the story of St. George and the Dragon. At our school for the past two years – and much to the disgust of my children – St. George has tamed rather than, slain the dragon. I think that my children are disappointed in the dragon for failing to live up to their expectation. They prefer epic battles and generally feel that evil shouldn’t just roll over like a remorseful puppy.
St Michael and the Dragon -- Aidan Minamiji, age 9
Now, I haven’t talked to any of the faculty about this, so I don’t have any idea why the dragon has had a change of heart or why St. George is suddenly imitating Caesar Milan, but I know that my kids, at least, view the shift as part of a larger adult conspiracy to protect children from that which is scary and violent, and they aren’t happy about it. And, I can’t say that I blame them…
Like I said, I don’t know anything about the circumstances of the school play, but I do know that elsewhere, there seems to be a trend toward protecting our children from things that are violent, unsettling, complicated, frightening, challenging, or dangerous. Yet, strangely, while we are dumbing down fairytales so that the step-sisters turn nice in the sequel (Don’t get me started on Cinderella II), complaining about “darkness” in young adult literature, and making playgrounds so safe that they are one step up from padded cells for challenge-value, kids spend huge amounts of time indoors, playing first-person shooter games. Huh?
I would submit that much of this child-protective movement speaks more to the fears of adults than it does to the risk of frightening children. We all have different methods of coping with the fears that live deepest within us. Certain fears also seem to make some of the biggest dragons: relationship/rejection, children, and status/finance issues tend to be such huge triggers that we aren’t even aware of the weird ways in which we face these dragons until the fire has scorched our eyebrows. Continuing with our dragon metaphor, these are some of the methods I see (and have used, myself):
- Human Sacrifice – In the story, the villagers are offering up a maiden to the dragon in hopes of appeasing it when St. George rides in to the rescue. This always seemed like a self-defeating plot point to me. Who really thinks that one skinny girl is going to fill an entire dragon? At best, it seems like she’d just be an appetizer for the village main-course. Yet, we do this same thing every day. And usually, the humans we sacrifice are ourselves. Do any of these sound familiar?
- “I’m going to give up my yoga classes; they’re taking too much time away from my family.” Translation: My spouse/partner doesn’t like me spending evenings out, and I’m afraid I will lose him/her, but I don’t want to discuss it.
- “I’d like to have dinner, but I need to go on my child’s class trip. She isn’t ready to be away from home yet.” Translation: I am terrified that something may happen to my child if I am not there. I am terrified that he/she may be frightened or homesick and need me. I am terrified that he/she won’t need me.
- “I can’t make the soccer game this weekend. We have a big project at work and I can’t take the time away.” Translation: I need to be perceived as indispensible to the project. I’m also afraid that I may not actually be necessary every minute.
- Pitchforks, Torches, Mob – Sometimes, we tell ourselves that we aren’t afraid of the dragon, that we are angry, and righteous (or at least justified) in our anger. We rally the village, stir up the countryside, and attack the dragon. Unfortunately, since the attack is generally chaotic, and often not directed at the real problem, it usually fails and everyone limps home with battle scars. For real world examples, think of “flame wars” in internet chat rooms; snarky, passive-aggressive social media status posts, the clique gossip that should have stayed in high school but somehow managed to cling to the heels of adulthood for many of us; workplace alliances and backstabbing – the list goes on. No one wins – except the dragon.
- Dragon Whisperer – This may be the trickiest fear-related coping mechanism to understand, probably because it seems the most sane. Instead of running from or battling our dragons, we take them home, and train them. Unfortunately, we often simply wind up nurturing the dragon, and in the safety of our homes, and with unlimited food, it grows fat and becomes all too real. This brings me to the title of this post Dragons Don’t Make Good Pets. Often, in trying to manage our fears, to prevent the circumstances that we most dread, we create those very circumstances. Again, anything here sound familiar?
- We fear that our spouse will stray. Do we discuss our fears? Do we bring the hidden insecurities out into the light? Often no, we manage schedules, micromanage emotional interactions, even monitor our partner’s communications. Why? Because some part of us thinks that we can control the dragon. And if we have control, the thing we fear won’t happen. Well, we’ve all seen this made-for-TV movie…
- We fear that our children won’t succeed in life. Again, control becomes the means of coping with the dragon. We arrange activities, sports, tutoring, lessons. We check homework, draft schedules, and micromanage until two things happen:
- Our children have no ability to discipline themselves.
- Any joy they may have once taken in the task has been destroyed.
- (For the record, I’m currently undergoing a reformation on this point. My daughter and I have a pact this year – as long as she gives her schoolwork her best effort, I will give staying off her back my best effort. So far so good, by all reports, she is much more focused in class.)
- We fear that harm may come to our children. They may be physically injured. They may experience rejection. They may get their hearts broken. They may face failure. Guess what? They will. This is one of the hardest dragons to face: the knowledge that we cannot protect our children from life. Nor should we. I cringe every time I hear an adult say that they don’t want children to feel “disappointed” or to be “frightened” or to risk getting hurt. If our children do not face these risks and learn to handle the fairly small wounds of childhood, what kind of adults will they become?
- Being St. George – This is the most difficult and most lonely way of handling the dragon. And ultimately, I believe, is the only way that will work. Gather the light from within and without, let that light of honesty, acceptance, and self-worth shine through oneself, and with one’s own strength and sword, ride out to face the dragon – seeing the beast for what it is, and slaying it (or, at least banishing it back to its cave.)