Saturday, August 25, 2012

The time I threw The Gingerbread Man book behind my filing cabinets...

As many of you know, Brian and I have chosen not to have kids.
{I wrote a little bit about this here.}
It's a complicated, layered decision that was {and still is!} filled with emotion, contemplation 
but ultimately, peace. 
We knew at the beginning of our relationship that this was a part of our story and we have gone through many ups and downs with how this "defines" us and how we "fit in" {or not...} with many of our friends' lifestyles and stories.
Our decision has nothing to do with infertility. I actually can't imagine what it would be like to have a strong desire to have kids only to find out we couldn't for some reason. 
I can't relate with those that have suffered in this way, but I can relate with the feeling of  
"One of these things is not like the other..." at any given park, neighborhood party or family style restaurant.
When I happened to read The Gingerbread Man fairy tale with my ELL Beginners at school, 
I lost my shit.

{I teach ELL's because there  is a large refugee population at our school and these kids are in the process of learning how to  read and write in English (hence the children's books) and I am teaching them. Yikes. This "yikes" is a whole other blog post... }

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Chances are I have read this story before, but I never saw the story from the couple's 
point of view. 
And when I did, I felt very strong emotions of anger and sadness for the message that I saw being communicated. 
Here are some excerpts of the book that really set me off:

The couple had no children, and being lonely, the woman decided to make a boy of gingerbread. She carefully mixed the batter, rolled out the dough, and cut out out a very nice gingerbread man. She added sugar icing for his hair, mouth, and clothes, and she used candy chips for buttons and eyes. What a fine looking gingerbread man he was! The old woman put him in the oven to bake. After he was fully done, she slowly opened the oven door. Up jumped the gingerbread man, and he ran out the door saying,
"Run, run, as fast as you can!
You can't catch me!
I'm the Gingerbread Man!"

The old woman and the old man ran after him, but they could not catch him.

And right when he stood still. Snap! went Mr. Fox's jaws right into the Gingerbread Man until he was gone.

So this is how I read it:
The OLD couple, for one reason or another, had no children. 
They were LONELY.
{Ugh! These words! Old AND lonely!? Ugh!}
The woman thought, hey! I believe in magic! Why can't the magic that happens in the movie The Odd Life of Timothy Green happen to me? I'll bake a kid! 
Lo and behold, it worked. 
It freaking worked. 
At last. 
They had a child of their own.
{Albeit he's a gingerbread MAN, not a boy... but whatever.}
But then, the little brat just ran away.
He was so ungrateful!
He didn't care who his parents were!
The poor old couple went chasing after him, but he kept running.
Then, after a round of close calls, his luck runs out when a sneaky fox 
ultimately eats him.
And he's gone.
And that's it. 
That's the end of the story. 

I finished the story feeling profoundly sad for the couple. First, they were depicted as "old and lonely" and then they lost their magic child.

I also didn't understand what I was supposed to learn from the story; was it that the fox is sly and cookies are to be eaten? 
But I also thought, wow.
 The message of being childless is treated so, so, I guess, icky in this story.
Sure, I am taking this personally.
Sure, I know this is sort of ridiculous.
But for me, it compounded the feeling that our society doesn't know what to do with people that don't have kids. We might as well try to bake a kid--but that won't last--that's not realistic--so we keep chasing that which eludes us...

After I finished the story, I sat with my ELL students staring wide eyed at me.
 I think this was because during the story I kept saying things like
"This is a terrible story!"
 "What is happening!?" 
"This poor couple! They are in every picture chasing, chasing, chasing!" 
"What a little brat this gingerbread man is!"
"What? He's dead? Really? Come on!!!"

I then told the kids that this is not the type of literature we will be reading in this class. 
It's garbage. 
When the bell rang, I threw the book behind my filing cabinets. I guess I didn't have it in me to throw the book away, being a literacy teacher and all, but I needed it out of my sight. 
And fast.
I don't know if I have over reacted--I probably have...
But I think that there are just too many layers of life to assume that being childless is simple or easy. I think I was left feeling  infuriated after reading The Gingerbread Man because these layers are often overlooked and I feel protective of couples  that don't always fit in--those that chase magic, even if it seems silly, and those that lose what they have hoped for to a sneaky fox. 


  1. Oh, how true your words ring for me. And . . . add another layer of not being a "couple," and that's this girl in a nutshell!

  2. Your honesty and bravery are just two of the thousands of qualities I love about you. Your vulnerability reminds others that they are not alone. You are such a treasure.

  3. I love that you actually threw the book, haha. You getting upset/annoyed by this book is completely justified, that is a pretty awful story. Not trying to be super mean or anything but that damn gingerbread man got what he deserved for just taking off like that. As far as you & your husband deciding not to have kids I commend you on your bravery. It's not a very popular choice and sadly it's frowned upon in society if you're 'able' to have them. The hubs & I are currently in talks of whether we want kids or not, we'll see how it goes.

  4. That's a terrible book, Kari. And I don't think you overreacted. It's a completely natural reaction, at least for me. :) You are such a wonderful couple and I think it's a brave decision that you made. I don't know if I ever want to have children but if I won't have any I want people to respect that decision. They don't have to understand but at least respect it.