Tuesday, May 13, 2008


I have long had a love for Disney's animated movie: The Little Mermaid. Soon after I had every song and line memorized (seriously, ask my husband) I came across this story in a book called "All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten" by Robert Fulghum. At the time I read it, the story spoke to me of being myself - and knowing who that really was. I was somehow reminded of the story in the course of the past week and looked it up again. It's still a good one. I call it "The Mermaid Story":

Giants, Wizards and Dwarfs was the game to play. Being left in charge of about eighty children seven to ten years old, while their parents were off doing parenty things, I mustered my troops in the church social hall and explained the game. It’s a large-scale version of Rock, Paper and Scissors, and involves some intellectual decision-making. But the real purpose of the game is to make a lot of noise and run around chasing people until nobody knows which side you are on or who won.

Organizing a roomful of wired-up grade-schoolers into two teams, explaining the rudiments of the game, achieving consensus on group identity – all this is no mean accomplishment, but we did it with a right good will and were ready to go.

The excitement of the chase had reached a critical mass. I yelled out: “You have to decide NOW which you are – a GIANT, a WIZARD or a DWARF!”

While the groups huddled in frenzied, whispered consultation, a tug came at my pants leg. A small child stands there looking up, and asks in a small, concerned voice, “Where do the Mermaids stand?”

Where do the Mermaids stand?

A long pause. A very long pause. “Where do the Mermaids stand?” says I.

“Yes, you see, I am a Mermaid.”

“There are no such thing as Mermaids.”

“Oh, yes, I am one!”

She did not relate to being a Giant, a Wizard or a Dwarf. She knew her category. Mermaid. And was not about to leave the game and go over and stand against the wall where a loser would stand. She intended to participate, wherever Mermaids fit into the scheme of things. Without giving up dignity or identity. She took it for granted that there was a place for Mermaids and that I would know just where.

Well, where DO the Mermaids stand? All the “Mermaids” – all those who are different, who do not fit the norm and who do not accept the available boxes and pigeonholes? Answer that question and you can build a school, a nation, or a world on it.

What was my answer at the moment? Every once in a while I say the right thing. “The Mermaid stands right here by the King of the Sea!”says I. So we stood there hand in hand, reviewing the troops of Wizards and Giants and Dwarfs as they roiled by in wild disarray.

It is not true, by the way, that mermaids do not exist. I know at least one personally. I have held her hand.


Teachinfourth said...

You always have a way to speak to the individual and believe in what is there. I think that my answer would have been more to the effect of, "Mermaids are really wizards who've transformed themselves, so you should be right over there in that group."

Your answer was much better...Carry on, oh mighty King of the "See."

A.T.Y. said...

No wonder you like Little Mermaid so much. I just didn't get it until I read that story.