Monday, April 30, 2007

Life Is Beautiful

Last week I watched Idol Gives Back, the special American Idol broadcast in which celebrity singers performed to raise funds for needy children in Africa and the United States. It was a phenomenal show packed with star-studded performances like Annie Lennox, Celine Dion, Kelly Clarkson and even Madge made a personal plea from Malawi. Idol Gives Back rose more than US$30 million. While the show combined a lot of great entertainment, it also managed to highlight the real tragedy in Africa and what’s happening closer to home. The highlight reel showed African children dying of malaria and described the rampant illiteracy rate amongst American children. It was very sad to watch.

I watched the program with my six-year-old daughter who kept asked me why the children were crying or why the kids had no books and food. She couldn’t comprehend this at all. But I just couldn’t bear to tell her that bug bites at night kill one million people in Africa or that the AIDS pandemic leaves millions of children without parents. I thought that would be a bit too much information for her little noggin to grasp.

Instead, I took a page out of Roberto Benigni’s triumphant film La Vita e Bella (Life is Beautiful) by spinning the story my own way. In the movie, Benigni’s character, Guido, and his young son are shipped to a deadly Nazi-run concentration camp. To preserve his son’s quality of life, Guido shuns his son of the real horrors of the camp by telling him that the entire incarceration is a “game” and the prize at the end is a giant “tank”. Guido proves to be a real spinmaster in the movie, taking every tragic turn and making it bearable and funny for his son. For Guido, shielding his young boy of the horrors in the concentration camp was Priority Number One, and he spun a believable story. I chose to fabricate my own story of why the children in Africa and the U.S. were sad, if only to spare her from shedding real tears herself.

In a way, I became what we in this business dread being called – a “spinmaster” - at least with my daughter. Because the truth isn’t always the best approach for those who are too young or incapable of understanding it. My daughter is six, and like many of my friends’ children she leads a life of privilege. Her world is filled with endless laughter, stuffed animals and toys, a safety net stronger than steel, and the love of everyone she meets. Why do I need to spoil her life bubble with talk of tragedy and death?

Maybe I’m doing the wrong thing spinning her with fables, but I don’t want her to lose some of that innocence and wide-eyed optimism. After all, she’ll come to know what a crappy world we live in at one point … but not now.

So what did I learn the other night? I guess it’s that there’s a time and place to spin a story.

Because sometimes, life really is beautiful.


Donna Papacosta said...

Yes, Julie, life is beautiful, and your daughter is too young to know the details of when it's not. Lovely post.

Anonymous said...


This post reminded me of another blog I read regularly, which had an excellent post on truth-telling and tale-weaving to children, found here:

Preserve your little one's sense of wonder and innocence -- for now. She'll be conquering the world soon enough...