englishman abroad, parenting

Home-grown Fairy Tales

It’s not easy to get a child to behave themselves sometimes. In an ideal world, a parent would always have the patience and temperament to sit the child down and explain exactly why certain behaviour is unacceptable. In an ideal world, the child would have the inclination to listen!

But this isn’t a perfect world and I’m not a perfect man. I have, however, discovered a way to avoid yelling too often. The answer is fairy tales.

It all started when my then-three-year-old daughter had to give up her dummy, which is called a ‘Schnuller’ in Germany. No matter how long her mother and I tried to explain that all Big Grown-up Girls of Three give up their dummy, no matter how rational and simple the argument for better teeth was, no matter how tempting the bribe was, my daughter simply wouldn’t countenance giving up her dummy.

Then my mobile rang and I received a telephone call from none other than The Schnuller Fairy herself, what are the odds of that? The Schnuller Fairy had a word with me and I passed the message on to Aurelia. Job done, dummy surrendered.

I have employed similar tactics recently. After the great success of Santa Claus’ omniscience for the last two Christmases, I decided to invent a new character. The Birthday Hen.

The Birthday Hen is male, by the way. Aurelia’s never questioned it. The Birthday Hen is from Australia and spends all day flying around the sky looking for naughty children. If he finds one, that child has their birthday postponed for a year and the child remains 4 (or whatever) for two years. If the child is naughty on their birthday then woe betide them! The Birthday Hen would swoop down and dive-bomb the party with rotten eggs and peck people on the ankle. Sometimes the Birthday Hen himself would telephone me and enquire as to Aurelia’s behaviour:

“Oh, no Mr Hen! I’m sure she’s in bed right now. I’ll just go and check!”

Lo and behold! Aurelia was suddenly and very convincingly asleep!

She’s had her fifth birthday now and I’ll admit it, I’m running out of ideas. Just today we were in Wilhelmshaven visiting The Pirate Museum when she became somewhat piratical herself. I very nearly invoked the April Eel, a wrathful eel who lurks omnipresently and sneakily nips the ankles of kids who don’t listen.

Not every story I’ve invented is of some omnipotent babysitter, however. I made up a story called The Little Strawberry Who Didn’t Listen, it’s one of Aurelia’s favourites. It’s a little bit long for this blog entry though, so I’ll share it with you next time.

englishman abroad

Märchen wird erzählt

We just got back from the  Wild- und Freizeitpark Ostrittrum, which is essentially a zoo / amusement park. As well as the standard fare (animals, rides, climbing frames, junk food) they also had that curiously German detail: The Märchenwald. It seems that any family-friendly amusement park has one of these but this is only the second one I’ve seen in my time in Germany. A Märchenwald is basically a ‘fairy tale wood’, I cannot ever remember seeing one of these in Britain so bear with me and I will try to explain.

Imagine a wood with a circuitous path running through it, every few meters along this path are little spectacles often in the form of a hut with a button on it and inside some life-sized human or animal figures.

Next to the button is a sign that says:

“Please press button once. Fairy tale will be told”

We pressed the button. The figures sprang into life and a detached voice told us the story of Rapunzel, or Hansel and Gretel, or Little Red Riding Hood or another well-known fairy tale. There is something horrible, I think, about animatronic figures, something uncanny, unsettling and weird. Nonetheless, Aurelia seemed to enjoy it.

Funnily enough, I recognized most of the tales because they were mainly Brothers Grimm tales. German but well-known in the UK. There was a smattering of other fairy tales that I didn’t recognise, of course, but I was surprised to see that Jack and the Beanstalk was missing. It turns out that Jack and the Beanstalk is one of a few truly English fairy tales, ones that weren’t inherited from Germany, Scandinavia or elsewhere.

After the fairy tales, we went on a giant wooden pirate ship and lots of slides, climbing frames, swings and all sorts, Aurelia had a lot of fun and Andrea and I were kids again. We stayed at the amusement park for over three hours so I think we got our money’s worth.