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CHILDREN'S STORIES: Meanings And Applications
by Son Vi Nguyen,M.D.We are inclined to put a sharp limit betweenLadies and Gentlemen,
fantasy and reality, but the fact is that often
our life is a living dream where reality and
fantasy are involved in an endless waltz...
I have always believed that stories that we happen to hear in our childhood do not die with time. Not only they don't die away, but constitute a powerful dynamic force that has the capacity to influence our life either at a conscious or unconscious level. I guess that some of you have heard about the story of Barry Clifford who recently discovered the treasure of the Whidah, the flagship of the notorious buccaneer Sam Bellamy which sank in 1717 within sight of the beach at Cape Cod. Let's leave it to Barry Clifford to explain how he happens to think of the famous pirate's treasure and make its hunting a lifetime dream: "My uncle Bill Carr, a master storyteller, first told me of the Whidah one night when I was about 8. The story never faded. I started exploring the ocean bottom when I was very young... I pretended I was a time-traveler wandering the liquid space. Letting my mind wander back through history, I would dream of shipwrecks I'd discover. Most old Cape Cod families have their own version of Captain Bellamy's exploits and the whereabouts of his treasure. From candlelit taverns where would-be sailors planned their expedition to the bedroom of my 6-year-old son, Brandon, the legend of the Whidah has been listened to with wide-eyed wonder. Separating the fact from the folklore became my challenge... In the fall of 1982, 30 years after Uncle Bill told me my bedtime story, I sat on the edge of Uncle's Bill bed. This time it was my turn to tell him a pirate's story. He knew I'd found her. His eyes sparkled like a child's in anticipation. Uncle Bill died later that night. I'm sure he dreamed of treasure."
The story of Barry Clifford tells us many things about Children's and folk stories which used to share the same origin:
1/ One of the popular mode of transmission of the stories are by word of mouth.
2/ The stories are frequently told at bedtime in a family environment, from parents to children. It seems that both parties want to carry the fantasy into their dreams.
3/ Carried on by oral tradition, the same story may exist under different versions, each reflecting certain aspirations of the storyteller, or of his time.
4/ The stories always content mixed elements of reality, and fiction, but instead of carrying the subject away from reality, the fantasy part enriches and gives more power to the sense of reality.
5/ The sharing of the stories often is an occasion to close the gap between generations.
Though my experience in the field is still very limited, but the more I learn about the meanings of traditional stories, particularly of children's stories - which is the subject of this discussion - and their functional implications, the more I find extremely interesting and useful.
History and Anthropological studies have proven that children's stories and folk tales are a key to understanding a people, their way of life, their sense of values, their love of beauty, their dreams and aspirations.
The children's literature of the 17th and 18th century in England and America reflects a profound influence of Puritanism. John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress published in 1678 was an eloquent example of the use of children's literature for educational purposes, it was an allegory of man's conflict between good and evil. The aspirations of people of low social status to gain parity with their master are found in Charles Perrault's tales Sleeping Beauty or Cinderella. The wish to explore new lands at a period when colonial expansionism was booming was expressed in Gulliver's Travels written by Jonhattan Swift and published in 1726. Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe written at a time when voyages by sea to the remote and sometimes unknown lands were becoming more common seems to me as an expression of hope for survival should the worst catastrophe ever happens.
Robin Hood is not only the picture of a buoyant young man robbing for the poor, it's a message about social injustice, that social unfairness is so bad that sometimes the act of robbery could find a justification. This theme is so deeply enrooted in the people that the story has been kept very alive throughout the ages and has been retaken several times by different authors, among them The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood published in 1883 by Howard Pyle, and during the last presidential election campaign, the formula "reversed Robin Hood" has once again entered the lexicon of political debates. The Legend of King Arthur and his Knights of The Round Table is another example of the people's aspirations for political justice. It seems to me that it is one of the early and primitive foundations of the democratic institution in the West. At a time when the king used to be regarded as some sort of deity, King Arthur's sitting symbolically as an equal partner to his knights around a round table discussing the affairs of the state represents indeed a new political vision. The story brings the image of the king and the problems he has to face at the level of the most common of men. He wasn't neither the strongest nor the wisest; the mighty magician Merlin and the knights were there to help him. Though religion and magic run through the story, King Arthur's Court at Camelot represented a social scene at the most human dimension. As a monarch, the king was not able to keep the love of his wife Guinevere who has lost her heart to the passionate Sir Lancelot. There was the courteous Sir Gawaine; the brave Sir Percival; the traitor Sir Modred, the noble Sir Bedivere, Sir Tristam, the knight of many skills and the noblest of the knights Sir Galahad who found the Holy Grail. The story went on at a time when the political dream was still not fulfilled, that explained the legend of the King's return some day from Avalon.
It is interesting to note that, children's stories, though designed for the young ones, are originated and transmitted mostly by adults. It is then not surprising to realize that children's stories often are an aesthetic product of this society as conceived by the adults, mirroring their values and offering a projective screen that illuminates their wish fulfillment fantasies. As the example of King Arthur's legend eloquently demonstrates it, often the stories are used to satisfy the desires of the adults to transcend their mundane world, this is where the most beautiful dreams find their fulfillment, where one gets rich overnight, a peasant's daughter marries a prince... It is also here that political, philosophical, ideological concepts find their ways to expression which would otherwise be impossible. It is through juvenile literature that the revolutionary vision of the child had been propagated by Jean Jacques Rousseau through his book Emile published in 1762. The child was no more considered as a mere adult in miniature, but as an entity with his own rights and who needs to be looked at under his own light. The idea was picked up by many other authors, among them the writer Thomas Day, the mystic poet William Blake and accounted for the advancement of Children's literature in the 19th and 20th century. It is a fact that many children's stories writers seem to create the stories for themselves or as a means to send a message of their own. Hans Christian Andersen, one of the world's most illustrious writers of fairy tales for children is an eloquent example, his "distance" from the children is a well known fact. In 1875, admirers in his country wanted to honor him by having his statue placed at Kongens Have, a park in Copenhagen. The sculptor August Saabye brought him a sketch which showed him seated in a chair reading, surrounded by a crowd of eager children, here is Andersen's angry reaction as related by the writer himself: "My blood was boiling, and I spoke clearly and unambiguously, saying, "None of the sculptors knew me, nothing in their attempts indicated that they had seen or realized the characteristic thing about me, - that I could never read aloud if anyone was sitting behind me, and even less if I had children sitting on my lap or on my back, or young Copenhagen boys leaning up against me, and that it was only a manner of speaking when I was referred to as the ‘children's writer'. "
On a psychoanalytical standpoint, children's stories are viewed not functionally, but behavioristically, elements of the story, namely myths, fantasy, humor and characters express hidden layers of unconscious wishes and fears. Sigmund Freud himself drew extensively upon folk sources and fairy tales in such works as: The Interpretation of Dreams (1899), Jokes and Their Relation to The Unconscious (1905) and Totem and Taboo (1913). The stories are assessed symbolically in terms of their psychosexual interpretation and their meanings with respect to the resolution of the Oedipus complex. In "Little Riding Hood", the young virgin was identified by the red cap which is considered as a menstrual symbol, her being devoured means that she had been seduced by the wolf who disguises himself as the grand- mother, an Oedipal figure. In Jack and The Beanstalk, the stalk is interpreted as a phallic symbol, and Jack's chopping it down is regarded as a masturbatory fantasy. The fairy tale Rumpelstilskin reported by the brothers Grimm relates the story of a gnome who has the power to transform straw into gold. Thanks to this alchemical ability, the gnome has a chance to save the life of a young girl whose father has lied to the king that his daughter was gifted with the same ability. The little man helps the girl three times, all during night time, the first time in exchange of a necklace, the second time in return for the girl's ring, and the third time with the girl's promise that she will give him her first-born child after she becomes Queen. The girl subsequently marries the king and bears a child whom the gnome threatened to appropriate unless she is able to tell his correct name - Rumpelstiltskin - which ultimately she does. The dwarf was so frustrated that he tears himself in two. In their brilliant paper, Rinsley and Bergmann (1983) point out that the character Rumpelstiltskin incarnates the stunted, sexless pre-oedipal male and his gold-spinning is a child playing with his own feces, a masturbatory precursor. The dwarf also symbolizes the phallic-symbiotic mother from whom the daughter can never separate and individuate. Heuscher (1963) saw him as the symbol of the girl's harsh, sadistic superego from which she cannot free herself. Ultimately, the girl succeeds at the expense of all other characters in the story, Rinsley and Bergmann go on to conclude that the tale is an account of the "great and baleful power that lies behind the facade of the innocent, virginal girl who achieves the trappings of womanhood at the expense of those around her and who are indeed parties to her effort". The psychoanalytic interpretations of children's stories can go on and on, particularly with the work of Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, Bruno Bettelheim, to name just the most prominent.
We have just made a quick review of the meanings of children's stories at the adult's level and in terms of their functional orientation and psychodynamic implications. Now let us consider their meanings with respect to the children for whom these stories are originally intended. Obviously, what make children's stories exciting are their elements of fantasy and a wide variety of unusual situations, and there had been concerns that this fantasy world of giants, witches, plots and intrigues may not serve the best interests of the child. This concern doesn't seem to be well founded. I believe that fantasy is one of the safest defense mechanism against frustration if it is limited in time, scope and not overused. Studies have shown that fantasy is a common mental activity in the child, this has been discussed by many authors. Sigmund Freud describes a form of primitive hallucination that precedes fantasy. According to Freud, the primary response of the newborn when desired food does not materialize is to hallucinate the experience of the feeding, thus evoking the memory of a past pleasant experience. Melanie Klein and Isaacs (1959) believe that at the unconscious level, the primary and original psychic activity is the "unconscious fantasy" which serves then as exclusive means to express .all needs and impulses. According to Isaacs (1959), the unconscious fantasy affects the body first and carries both libidinal and destructive impulses against the object. Fantasy is developed into a defense mechanism and as a means for satisfying needs and dealing with anxiety initiated by destructive impulses. The same author postulates that hallucinatory satisfaction of the desire, along with primary identification, introjection and projection are the foundation of fantasy; in another word, fantasies are mental representations of instinctive impulses. To borrow the ideas of M. Klein, we can say that fantasy is at the root of object and moral development. Klein also believes that the concept of object is determined by physical needs, impulses and fantasies, thus fantasies support the representation of the needs. The child's object can be internal or external to his own body. It is internal when it is introjected to satisfy the needs of the child and external when it concerns the person or object the child depends on. The introjected fantasy object is experienced by the child as "good" or "bad" depending on whether his oral needs are gratified or frustrated. From this perspective, this primary fantasy becomes the seeds from which the superego is going to develop into the moral system of the child. M. Klein also developed the concept of partial object which represents a bodily part and will ultimately appear in hallucinations or fantasy. These partial objects come to be perceived as good or bad and can be introjected in the form of an idiosyncratic sensation which acts as an internal reality. Apparently, the child develops his sense of reality by going through fantasy and reality situations at the same time, with both physical and emotional experiences. This mixture of reality and fantasy elements is found in most children's stories. In the very early time, the storyteller has learnt that even with a children's audience, there is a need for certain degree of realism even in the most fictional tale. It seems that while letting his imagination wander into the fantasy realm, the child still needs to have one foot on the ground; obviously the infant who hallucinates or fantasizes his gratifying object still has the ultimate need to get the real milk.
It is amazing to note that in spite of this reality fantasy duality, the child is often able to distinguish which part is fiction and which part is reality. Not only the rich material of the fairy tale doesn't confuse him, but he can really benefit from it. The child can stretch his imagination to a larger world which he can enjoy in fantasy, and still be able to learn a wide spectrum of situations which can happen in real life. He is quick to realize that in our time it would be hard to live a life as Robin Hood did and yet, people with the same personality and aspirations could still be found. The child can also use fantasy to explore their own feelings the same way that they explore their physical space. Millar (1974) believes that some children may use fantasy to try to make sense out of something they have encountered and that is puzzling and that children with a rich fantasy life are more able to sit still and wait in boring situations. Piaget proposes that the child assimilates new experiences into his cognitive framework by exploring, perusing, repeating and classifying events, verbal expressions and their own belief. Thus, the child's make-belief is a clue to the way they experience the world. Sometimes, fantasy could be a source of anxiety for the children because of their inability to control its content and development, but fortunately, frequently, the child can create and direct his imaginations particularly during the day time. A typical example of such imaginative activity is the experience of the make-belief friend who appears most of the time as friendly and helpful. Manosevitz (1973) believes that such imaginary companion is a helpful developmental experience, because with this companion, the child can practice and develop social and language skills which may otherwise develop more slowly. If we believe these to be true, then it is easy to recognize that the world of children's stories, with their wide array of people and situations, offers the child with a very rich learning experience. Nowhere else, our world is presented under such plurality where. There is no ends to human dreams and no limits to human tragedy, but the child always learns the ultimate optimistic message that life is struggle and Right will prevail over Wrong. It is where the true nature of Man is observed through the magnifying glass of realism and one realizes that people need to be judged by their actions instead of their deceiving garb. The world offered by children's tales also abounds in good people who could serve as model for identification and provide with basic morality norms. American kids learn a good lesson about honesty through the legend of young Georges Washington who said to his father that "I cannot tell a lie, it was me who chopped the cherry tree". Through the stories, children also learn more about people and the world in which they live because many tales are generated to explain the physical world and its inhabitants. They could also be used to Safeguard people's identity and their cultural beliefs as in the
example of the popular tale of the Ojibwa Indians who live in northern Michigan. The story explains that thunderstorms exist only in the neighborhood of Lake Michigan because the Ojibwa Indian's protective deities were thunder spirits. Here, I want to emphasize on the importance of Animal stories. From the Babylonian animal tales, the fables of Aesop often adapted to children's stories, or Rudyard Kipling's "Jungle Books" (1894-1895) and "Just So Stories" to Joel Chandler Harris' Uncle Remus, we have beautiful illustrations of the relation of man and animal, of animals as man's friends. The stories bring to the child a broader view of our ecologic system with a continuum between the homo-sapiens and other living creatures in this planet where every element plays an important role in this harmonic and delicate balance of life. Since a particular story is characterized by its basic pattern and by narrative motifs, rather than by its verbal form, it passes language boundaries without difficulty, thus it is able to keep the child in touch with other cultures and other people and their symbol since almost every country. has produced its own variety of helpful and harmful creatures such as the Dragon guardian of great treasures, giant birds carrying men off in their claws, evil witches, helpful genies, giants ect... Tragic situations developing into happy ending teach the child about the basic human dilemma worked out through the process of persevering struggle. Cinderella whose mother dies at her birth is at the mercy of her wicket stepmother, but she behaves morally and with good cheer and is rewarded in the end by a prince and happy life.
Whether painted in realism as in the case of Mark Twain's masterpieces "The Adventure of Tom Sawyer" (1871) and "The Adventure of Huckleberry Finn" (1884) or wrapped either in poetry, humor or imagination as reflected in Stevenson's "Child's Garden of Verses", Hillarie Belloc's "The Bad Child's Book of Beast (1896) or Walter De la Mare's "Songs of Childhood" (1902), children's stories offer the most precious function of juvenile literature which is the glorification of childhood and the child's world in its most beautiful and emotional dimension. Juvenile literature also introduces in its realm one factor which I think is one of man's most mature defense mechanism: humor. In fact, S. Freud (1916) has pointed out that the pleasure we take in humor is based on its ability to relieve us of psychic strain. The "Rhymes for The Nursery" (1806) which includes "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" by the Taylor sisters Ann and Mary and the "Book of Nonsense" (1846) by Edward Lear will still be sources of joy and relief for many young generations to come. Love is not forgotten either in children's literature. Young girls of our time who read Ramona (1884) by Helen Hunt or the series by Sarah Chauncey Woolsey "What Kathy Did" will still discover with pleasure the warm and serene emotions of Cupid's world.
An important contribution to the understanding of the meanings and
importance of children's stories is found in Bruno Bettelheim's superb book published in 1977 "The uses of Enchantment: The Meanings and Importance of Fairy Tales". Regarding the concern about the possible negative impact of fairy tales, Bettelheim contends that fairy tales are not only harmless, but offer great positive values. The wide variety of situations where fantasy and reality are both reflected enriches the child's experience and provides substance for his own fantasy. Bettelheim believes that the most delicate and important task in raising children is to help them find a meaning in life and the deepest meanings in life are rooted in moral behavior. Fairy tales, with their simplistic and representative form, their formulistic expressions such as "once upon a time", their frequent repetitions and their basic realism, in spite of the enchantment, have proven to be very effective tools in presenting the child with a wide variety of daily life problems at a level that can reach them and stimulate their interest. Moral didactics are made less boring through the exciting vehicle of fantasy. Bettelheim also points out that children do not identify themselves exclusively with the hero, but also with wicket stepmothers and evil traitors. Each may represent one side of a child's nature. When the hero wins over the bad guys, the child understands that it is possible for him to overcome his bad feelings of anger or selfishness. Thus, out of fantasy, the child develops more strength to deal with the difficult issues of his own life.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
At this point, I hope that we can agree that children's stories constitute an important part of the educational menu available to the child which can be reflected in multiple applications. Through the richness of the world that they depict and the creative fantasy that they evoke, it is hard to refute their cognitive, emotional and developmental influence on the child. But the problem is that how this menu is conceived, prepared and conveyed to the target subject. Not all stories, not all fairy tales, not all forms of fantasies are beneficial to the child. Since he is not a down-scaled adult, stories designed for the young could not and must not be an oversimplified theme of the adult drama. If we believe in the developmental theories proposed by S. Freud and particularly by Piaget that the development of personality is a maturational process, with continuous, predetermined and interrelated sequences, where the success of a previous stage is crucial to the completion of the coming stage which sets the premise for the subsequent stage, then we can understand that the children's stories under any form must be conceived and conveyed to the child according to his own degree of maturation. The argument that society has become more complex, so the child must be more prematurely exposed to adult's problems doesn't make sense, it is just like saying that the 12 month old baby must be able to climb a staircase because the house
happens to have two levels! This is where adults' debates and struggle about terminology must not interfere. Please keep these big words of Liberalism and Conservatism off the serene and naive world of the child! Realism or fairies need not be a subject for worries. The wonderful realism of Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884) and the enchantment of the brothers Grimm's "Fairy Tales" are both beneficial and enjoyable to the child. It is interesting to note that in the course of history, the realistic and imaginative trends seem to take turn in dominating the juvenile literature. Even the Soviet Unions who claim themselves as the last bastion of materialism are not immune to these up and down trends. Though the orientation during the 30's, 40's and 50's seems to be in favor of realism, many rhetoricians and main writers of the regime have recognized some beneficial use of fantasy for educational and even propaganda purposes, among them was Maxim Gorky who used fairy tales to encourage the child to become "the knight of the spirit" and who called for creative fantasy for children's stories which make out of the human being instead of a willess creature or an indifferent workman.
There is a growing concern that with this predominantly mercantile economic system, Children's literature and other forms of juvenile recreation and entertainment are going to be commercialized. I am afraid that this fear has long been overdue, because, indeed we are now faced with serious problems. With the advancement of all forms of modern technologies and a wide variety of communication means available and affordable to the individual family, children's stories are going beyond the oral and even literary level to embrace all forms of activities. Stories now could be told not only by word of mouth, picture books, and comics but also through TV shows and movies and even electronic games where the imagination of the child is reduced to the orality of Pac Man or the killing of Indians! This wide array of gadgetry is more than enough to confuse the young mind so vulnerable to external insult. Although books remain an important means to convey stories to the child, they have been increasingly subjected to political and religious debates along with other educational subjects under such rubric so much alienated to the child as "separation of church and state", "secular humanism" etc...And obviously books seem to have lost ground to other means of communication, particularly Television. We don't have anything against TV, on the contrary, we recognize it as a very effective educational tool, but unfortunately the quality of many TV programs which are within reach of the children, indeed are good reasons for worries. Moreover, there is another aspect: TV seems to be more of an impersonal means to communicate than books. Children can find in a book its title, its author's name; the book can accompany the child in bed, around the house, and stay there in the family for years like a friend.
With the TV set, the communication start with the click of a switch, the kind of program depends upon the time and the day of the week. My 4 year old daughter used to say: "I want to watch TV" or a little better "I want to watch Cartoons" instead of naming a particular program or hero. But as said earlier what is worrisome about TV is their quality. The invasion of the young mind by TV is not only reflected by long hours spent in front of the fluorescent screen at the prejudice of many other academic and physical activities, but also by other characteristics inherent to many TV programs of today. These include:
1/ The high degree of graphic violence and carnal sexuality which influence the child by means of negative modeling and behavior modification. Many TV programs have little concern for educational purposes; there is now much less emphasis on human values and moral responsibility than before. The good guy doesn't vanquish the evil villain any more but instead, violence, physical strength and shrewdness seem to take over. The teen-ager is encouraged to look for what used to be "adults' experiences" for hedonistic enjoyment. Sexual encounters, contraception, even abortion are not the domain taboo to the 13 year old pubescent anymore.
2/ Because of increasing loss of control of the parents over their kids, more children now are watching programs originally created for adults. The direct consequences are that the children are absorbing materials that are too much for them to conceive and integrate: violent sexuality, adultery, divorce, abortion, incest, homosexuality and violent crimes etc... Many people argue that it is better to know than to be ignorant, they pretend that presenting people with ultra-realistic materials help them familiarize with factual truth and acquire more experience to deal with the troubled reality of life. But the fact is that when these materials reach the children, they leave them with no answers. I believe that partial knowledge in a creature who is not ready to acquire this half piece of information is even worse than sheer ignorance! What is interesting is that when the kids are in trouble, these same people are quick to point out the sole responsibility of the parents who have become somewhat the scapegoat. We don't mean that the parents are completely free of any moral responsibility, but certainly, those who diffuse sewer materials need to share their part of the blame.
3/ Certainly, TV could be a very good means of education and communication if it is not abused for the service of commercialism. But when visual stimulation takes over other forms of sensorial and mental stimulation to become the overwhelmingly main source of input, then there is good reason to worry. Obviously, TV watching is taking over time from other activities such as play, reading, and physical training. This - we may call "visual over-stimulation"- may interfere with the child's ability to abstract and experience feelings. Studies need to be done to show whether persistent increased visual input has any influence on the individual's mental activity or not. But it seems that extreme visual realism would leave little room for the child's imagination. Heroes do not receive anymore the favor of the child's imagination, but they appear as Clint Eastwood, Charles Bronson etc... and guess what happens if our hero of tonight is arrested for DUI or illegal sex solicitations the next morning.
4/ So much water has run under the bridge since Jean Jacques Rousseau's Emile brought a new vision of the child to the world. Man celebrates his crown of laurel. History boasts itself of its transcendent evolution. At last, man has come to recognize and respect the "father of man" and pays tribute to him by serving his needs, and here we are 2 centuries later coming back to the stage where as far as the intellectual food is concerned, the child just shares the adult's leftover!
We, adults know that the young days, when gone, will never come back. At any price, the world of the young ones cannot be sacrificed to a more adult-oriented society. If there is a time to love and a time to die, then there must be a time to be old and a time to be young! I believe that it is a crime to deprive our children of their youth, to take away that palpitating emotion, that innocent serenity, that creative fantasy and that naive perception which are unique and which make the child's world what they are: soft, sincere, sensitive and vulnerable. But unfortunately, in a society where we are so concerned about the problem of overt child abuse, there is this large scale of covert child abuse that goes on unpunished! Depriving the child of his right to live his life as a child, making him a subject of adult's experimentation in the name of liberalism, conservatism, secular humanism, you name it, are ultimate forms of child abuse with far reaching consequences, which nobody can predict. Already, we have seen serious problems surging and ringing a worrisome alarm. Many of us have started raising the question of child's suicide, of course this is not a new problem, but why suicides are going rampant particularly in our state of Oklahoma. There is of course no simple answer because the causes are multiple, but if we examine our own conscience, somewhere, we would find out that the adults have to give the children
back their world of joys and wonders. We know that we have to take off their shoulders the burden of our life's conflicts that we, as adults, have compelled them to share with us, leaving them with little choice! The child needs to feel, to love, to behave and to be perceived as a child.
If we believe the functions of fantasy and imagination to be a temporary escape of the child from frustrating and troubled reality of life, if we believe that good children's stories have the capacity of giving the child a broader sense of reality, then there is no reason why we don't sit back and reexamine their usefulness and their applications and try to make juvenile literature more available and more interesting to the children. At a time when the extended family is no more, the nuclear family is disintegrating, we need many more Uncle Bill to tell our children of pirates' treasures or of a never-never land or even of a wonderland named America at a time when history was in the making. I hope there will be more evenings when human emotions could be shared from one old generation to a younger one, when the child learns that there is more meaning to family than just
sit together. I also expect to see more children's stories books in the school, more sessions when preschool children can travel through the wonderlands with their teacher, I believe it to be useful if convalescent kids in children's hospitals, once in a while, have their social workers read to them beautiful stories, because being ill often leaves the child with such threatening fantasies!
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Allow me to conclude with a little personal touch. In my life, I have gone through more hardship than good times. I have come to know such words as "labor camp" or "concentration camp" which are more than a futile word for those who have had an experience of them. I don't claim a strong personality, but I was fortunate to survive the storms and hurricanes of our country's unfortunate history. I was surprised to realize that strength and hope never left me in time of crisis. And I know that I owe it to Mighty God and to my ailing mother who is still looking in anguish for the day to join me from this remote land which used to represent the most precious thing I have ever had in life. I still remember these evenings, when after a day, which we often happen to wonder how we manage to survive, I used to let my imagination wander into the fairy world which my mother used to make a beautiful painting of from legends and folklore which are so rich in our culture. Then I would ease myself into the most beautiful dreams I have ever had to wake up early the next morning, ready for the hard reality of a new day. Most of the time, the images of my wife and children would slip into these fantasies! I want to share with you this part of my life and with the kids of this wonderful country. I wish that we shall come to the point some day when our kids will be able to enjoy their own world of much joys and little sorrows, and without interference.
To you my young little friend who, one gloomy day, may have felt frustrated and alienated from the adult world and to whom an empathizing friend is not available, I want to tell you that you are not by yourself. Only those who cannot find a companion in themselves are the ones who are truly alone. Find the friend who is within yourself, take him through the marvelous world of "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star", have him visit the castle where Cinderella with good cheer and virtue makes it to a happy life. And watch Jack climbing the beanstalk to struggle for his mother's and his own survival. And then, I want you to have a good dream and come back to this real world to learn that in this land called America, with struggle, dreams do come true.
Presented at the Oklahoma University Health Sciences Center
Son Vi Nguyen, M.D.
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