Sunday, November 14, 2004

Inner Pippi

Smartmom, OSFO, and Teen Spirit (listening in from the other room) are reading "Pippi Longstocking" at bedtime. Smartmom had forgotten just how crazy a character she is. But what a winner.

Written in 1950 by the Swedish author, Astrid Lindgren, "Pippi" is the tale of a 9-year-old girl with bright red pigtails who lives all by herself in a house called Villa Villakulla. Her mother and father are nowhere in sight and she can do pretty much as she pleases. "Once upon a time Pippi had had a father of whom she was extremely fond," writes Lindgren. "Naturally she had a mother too, but that was so long ago that Pippi didn't remember her at all."

Pippi's dad is a sea captain who is now living on an island of cannibals. "'My papa is a cannibal king, isn't every child who has such a stylish papa,' Pippi used to say with satisfaction."

Like so many famous children's books the author conveniently banishes the parents right from the beginning. With a dead mama and a papa far away, Pippi is one free little girl

Living by herself in a small Swedish town, Pippi causes quite a stir. She's traveled the world on her father's ship and has experienced more than most people twice her age. And what a mouth on her -- she always says exactly what she's thinking. She has never gone to school, lives with a monkey named, Mr. Nilson, drinks coffee, makes exotic Swedish cookies and entertains her very conventional next door neighbors, Tommy and Anneka, with her outrageous antics, including lifting up her horse with one hand.

You get the picture.

As you can imagine, OSFO just loves Pippi. It isn't everyday that a free-spirited anarchist is valorized this way. What kid doesn't long for the life of freedom that Pippi enjoys -- no one to tell you what to eat, when to do your homework, what time to go to bed, On the other hand, it's probably a little scary too. Kids are big talkers when it comes to wanting complete freedom. "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose," and kids are secretly comforted by the rules and routines of life just as they rail against them.

OSFO is a roller-coaster of emotions as she listens to the book. She's goes from wide-eyed shock to exclamations of "Oh my God." There's hysteria, indignation, even pride as Pippi insults her teacher at school (the one day she goes to give it a try), tells a pair of policemen to be on their way, or feeds the kids next door copious amounts of coffee and treats.

OSFO reveres Pippi (the Oh So Spunky One), whose love of adventure, outrageousness and fun makes her a kindred spirit worth emulating. OSFO dressed like Pippi for a dinner party the other night. With mis-matched socks, a kooky jumper, big shoes and two braids in her hair, OSFO was one adorable Pippi!

Who wouldn't want to be Pippi? Even Smartmom longs to indulge her inner Pippi. Call it a mid-life miasma: Smartmom would love to say, "scram" to the conventional world and dance to the beat of her very own drum set. Everyone -- kids and adults -- needs a break from what's expected of them -- the relentless rhythm of contemporary life.

Kids too need a break from the rigors of contemporary childhood. And it's downright refreshing to read such an alternative vision of that "magical" phase of life. Lindgren's book portrays childhood as a time of freedom and frivolity. How different from 2004 Park Slope. Here a child's life is all about school, homework and extra-curricular activities. Kids are expected to be as driven as their parents. It's as if childhood is one long list of accomplishments to put on a college application.

From birth, all eyes are on the dreaded developmental growth chart. Is the baby lifting her head, rolling over, crawling and walking on time? How about talking -- if she's not verbose by the age of two, it's off to the speech therapist. If the kid isn't reading and writing according to early acessments, it's time to be tutored and drilled. And afterschool and weekends, for God's sake, don't be idle. Learn an instrument, take a dance class, play a team sport. Nobody said it was going to be easy being raised by the Yuppie generation, that's for sure.

Whatever happened to riding bikes or spending an afternoon transforming a refrigerator box into a house? It's not like this stuff doesn't happen, but it doesn't happen enough. Childhood is pretty idyllic in Park Slope, but sometimes it's not as idyllic as it could be. Smartmom can see why OSFO's eyes light up when she hears about Pippi's wild and carefree days.

That said, Pippi can be rude, unpleasant, and not very P.C. Teen Spirit's first grade teacher was reading the book to her class years ago and discovered that it's actually a bit racist. As far as Smartmom knows, "Pippi Longstocking" isn't read in PS 321 classes anymore But those brief "racist" passage can be quickly deleted at bedtime, letting the book stand as a great portrait of a spunky and independent little girl. She sure makes one feminist mom proud and puts a smile on OSFO's face.


At 6:51 AM, Blogger brooklynfox said...

Dear Pippi's Mom,
I'd love to be Pippi everyday. Really, what do we have to lose by telling people to "scram". It feels damn good to let someone have it now and then. I can imagine how much OSFO must love the book. I think The Goose will love it too. Thanks for the synopsis of Pippi's story. I had forgotten what it was about. You know, you are a great writer. RFJ

At 10:53 AM, Blogger Dissapointed about Pippi said...

I loved pippi as kid but never understood why my mother wouldn't allow me to watch her. As an adult, I rented the movie for my children and noticed just how racist pippi is. Her father is the Negerkönig‘, Orginal translation is "king of the niggers." What upset me is that astrid lundgren before her death in 2002 didn't think it was and urgent matter to update the books to reflect todays politcally correct world.


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