Once upon a time there was sensible young lady who sought parenting advice from an old man she met on the internet. It wasn’t the first time she’d turned to the old man for advice and in all likelihood it wouldn’t be the last. After all, he’d never steered her wrong — at least not yet.
But somehow this time was different. This time the inquiry was not about a scraped knee, a loose tooth or interfering in-laws. This time it was all about rabbit pie.
My friend’s question started innocently enough, “Have you read Beatrix Potter?”
Honestly, I had to do a quick Google search on my phone. I’d heard the name, of course, but couldn’t put it together with what she was famous for writing. Now I remembered, Peter Rabbit! Yes, I was familiar with Peter Rabbit and was pretty sure we had a nice, illustrated copy lurking somewhere in the house, though I wasn’t quite sure where it had hopped off to. After a hasty search returned no joy, however, I decided we must have gotten rid of the book during the move.
But yes, I told my friend, the Tale of Peter Rabbit is a great children’s book that we’d read to our children, all of whom survived childhood and are now productive adults who have successfully spawned small humanoids of their own. So what’s the problem?
Rabbit pie, it turned out, was the problem, and a big one, it seemed. Oh?
Yes, the young mother opined, “There are anthropomorphous rabbits, and the book apparently starts out with Peter’s father being cooked up in a pie! How is that a good thing to teach your children!?!?”
After looking up anthropomorphous to make sure I had it right, I finally understood the full scope of my friend’s concern. I had to chuckle and think to myself: How is that NOT a good thing to teach your children? Followed quickly by, I wonder if they even have rabbits in India, which is where my friend and her impressionable son reside.
Wow! This conversation had suddenly turned into a genuine multicultural, multigenerational mind-bender!
Here was a young Indian mother — one who knows how to spell anthropomorphous and even knows what it means — asking an old-fart American and retired editor about the advisability of exposing her son to leporidaean carnage in a book written by an even older-fart Englishwoman who penned the Tale of Peter Rabbit in 1902, just slightly before I was born!
Yikes! The responsibility of my position here is weighty indeed!
No! No! I finally spluttered, I think it’s fine! Sure, we old people screwed up our own kids sometimes, but we didn’t screw them up about everything! And besides, how is it a bad thing for a child to learn that if he follows his father’s bad example he might end up baked in a pie?
I guess I just don’t fully appreciate her concern.
Look, I’m not one of those people who thinks children of my generation had it rougher than today’s sprats. All we had to worry about was maybe falling off the monkey bars during recess (no cushy soft landing on a bed of mulched rubber for my generation, we had asphalt). True, we did know we were at risk of getting vaporized in a nuclear war, but no big deal, we could just huddle under our desks at school.
Alas, children today already have so much more to worry about, do they really need to hear about cute bunnies getting skinned, boned, chunked, thrown into pastry and baked in the oven at 400 degrees?
In a word, yes, yes they do!
It’s true that kids today already have, ahem, a lot on their plates. For example:
- Although they don’t have to hear about it as much, the sad truth is they could die an an even more potent nuclear holocaust than the one my generation faced.
- They could inhale a lethal dose of COVID-19 and gasp out their little lives on a ventilator, or (more likely) breathe it to a grandparent and watch him gasp out his life on a ventilator.
- They could be wiped out by a deranged gunman sporting a Trump hat and wielding a completely legal AR-15.
- Or, perhaps worst of all, they could actually live out their lives under an autocracy — or worse, a theocracy — courtesy of their elders making bad choices in the voting booth.
All that, and you’re worried about who Mr. McGregor put in his pie?
Listen, my friend, you came to me for advice and I’m freely giving it: Read the Tale of Peter Rabbit to your child. The world we live in is not all unicorns, rainbows and buttercream. Our world is full of some really bad shit, dangerous shit, and the more kids learn about it now, the better off they’ll be. Their turn to screw things up will come soon enough, and with full knowledge of the stakes, perhaps they’ll make better decisions than we did — like staying out of the freaking garden when Mr. McGregor is around!
Well, that’s it, and now that I’ve stated my case so tastefully, I’m still thinking about what Indian rabbits might look like, and if I’m being honest, I’m also damned curious about how a pie with Peter’s dad might be, perhaps with just a dash of curry!