Gustafson: Don’t let Candyland melt | AspenTimes.com

Gustafson: Don’t let Candyland melt

Britta Gustafson
Then Again

"Where should I go?" asked Alice. "That depends on where you want to end up," the Cheshire Cat replied.

Like many her age, my daughter has suddenly become persistent in questioning the logic involved in how one could possibly travel the world in a single night delivering gifts to every child on earth. As the holiday cheer begins creeping onto store shelves and into online ads far before the jack-o-lanterns have begun to decay, I'm left trying to find the right answers.

Although I'm not ready to jingle any bells just yet, it took me by surprise to think that she has become so practical at only 8 years old. The costly facade and fantasy of early childhood sometimes causes us parents to roll our eyes as we open our wallets. We see through all the marketing. Still, when the nostalgia bubbles up, like the slimy sensation of being elbows deep in pumpkin guts or an old Christmas carol ringing over grocery store speakers, or the gripping powerful smells of baked apple pie, it can all send us reeling back to the days of blissful wonder, and most of us can't resist carrying on the traditions.

I'm not about to short change my little kids on the fictions that create our culture — the myths of dressing up for their happily-ever-after, or gift-wrapping for them during the "most wonderful time of the year."

Actually, I believe that as they begin to poke holes in the stories of tooth fairies and great pumpkins and Santa, they begin to journey along the path that will soon permanently exile them from Neverland. I'm in no hurry to assist in that tragedy.

I'm still compelled to keep the story going. After all, they are our cultural myths- told to protect our little ones from harsh realities, to teach them to believe in things that they can't see or touch, including to believe in themselves, their own strengths, uniqueness and purpose.

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Sure, the pessimist in me fears these myths perpetuate the plot that has us all convinced to conform to our commercially driven culture. That side screams "pull back the curtain," but the dreamer whispers "pay no attention to that man behind the curtain." So I keep my head down in an endless search to find my way back to the yellow brick road.

It's certainly possible that capitalism in bed with marketing is really just the wolf in grandma's clothing. We bleed our hearts and our wallets in an effort to escape somewhere over the rainbow; a profitable advantage for those who have tapped into that place of wonder where we are still held hostage to the daydreams of yesteryear.

Perhaps it's our own irritation that tempts us to break down and share too much with our little ones. Already — carting through the stores, even online, when the merriment is still a few months away — the consumerism of the holidays is being crammed down our throats. The mid-October Christmas aisles actually make the commercial side so blatantly apparent. Couldn't we please wait a few more weeks to hear those sleigh bells jingling?

In my previous life working at a marketing firm that specialized in real estate, the secret was to sell the unattainable. Spoiler alert: Although it is marketing 101, if you can simply convince someone that they are purchasing love, happiness or endless time, they will buy just about anything while caught up in the fantasy. Perhaps adults are an even more vulnerable target market, as we have outgrown the suspended disbelief we had as children, and are now very much aware that love often has limits, happiness is something you can accidentally outgrow and time goes by faster with every year.

Maybe that is why so often parents let their kids in on the ploy. We fear for them, that they too could become zombified-shopaholics who will spend the rest of their lives working to purchase love, happiness and time.

Still, I can't help but remember the holidays of my childhood, the rush of a haunted house, because at one point it really was haunted. The elation of Christmas mornings because there really was magic in the air.

I can recall the most magical Christmas Eve I ever experienced before having kids of my own when the torch was passed. Like Wendy Darling, I had spent my last night in the proverbial nursery, and felt grown up and empowered by my new found wisdom. With two younger sisters still dreaming sugar-plum dreams, I had to keep it to myself. I sat that evening by the tree with its colorful glowing lights wrapped in my mother's arms and she said to me, "Oh, but it's still so magical isn't it?"

Then I knew that I would always feel the presence of the positive energy, love and giving spirit — nothing that you can buy. That night a new wonder grew that has never left, like a telescope to Neverland. Slowly we change from believing into becoming, passing the magic on from generation to generation. I still continued to see stars wink, and I holdout. Mock me or indulge me. After all, isn't it about where you want to end up?

So, yes, if it's all a fantasy it can get expensive. But the wonderland a child creates is the daydream in which they live, and the lucky take some of those dreams with them when they journey back through the looking glass.

Let's exchange a piece of my mind for a little peace of mind, after all, if we always agree, what will we talk about? Britta Gustafson appreciates an open mind; share yours and email her at brittag@ymail.com.

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