Every so often it might fall to you to tell a story of the big wicked world to a child: a story that might involve "adult themes", in the nomenclature of the Film Rating
board. Barring out and out explicit sex
, it's quite easy to adapt almost any story for childrens' consumption.
First, don't burden the story with needless information: figure out what the theme of the story is and simplify accordingly, rather than trying to explain difficult issues. For instance, if the story concerns the lover of a gay friend of yours, decide whether the story is about them being lovers (in which case you can talk about it happening to a "girlfriend") or about them as two men in which they can be best friends. This may seem dishonest, in this age when the Little Ones should grow up with positive images of homosexuality and the like, but believe me, it's often a lot better to handle it this way than to have to stumble through a detailed explanation of how this is just as sacred a bond as Barbie and Ken, but different. (One pedantic friend of mine shoehorned a thorough discussion of homosexuality-- because of the portrayal of King Herod--into a synopsis of Jesus Christ Superstar she was relating to a stage-struck young niece...I doubt if the girl involved stayed awake.) If the kid comes away with the idea that your friend is, at heart, a good person, it's far more valuable than any categorical judgment about sexual orientation. If it's a story about drugs, decide whether the theme of the story is Having a Good Time or Being Sick or Hiding Something or Doing Something Stupid...you get the idea. If the kid comes away with the idea that you ought to be careful, even when things are going fine, it's far more valuable than any categorical judgment of recreational substances. Second, know your child. Children can handle various levels of information at various ages, as illustrated by the following story about my mom's friend Walter.
Among his minor claims to fame (other than being a sometime sculptor, and making a mean martini) was that he was once a jazz musician (guitar and bass), backing such greats as Charlie Parker and Miles Davis, among others. Naturally, he owned an extensive library of recordings by these fellows, and as a doting mentor, he often told stories about them to help pique my interest in what I might find "difficult" music. Naturally, he wanted me to see them in a good light, so when I was a little girl, he would relate tales of his good friend, Fun Loving Charlie, always with a beer in his hand, some chicken wings in his belly, a saucy lady in view, music in his heart, and mischief on his mind. When I was about thirteen, Charlie Parker developed into quite the drinker, who "might have smoked some pot", though of course Walter would never do such a thing, (of course) being a law-abiding citizen...after all, he was an advertising executive! When I was sixteen, Mr. Parker started smoking pot full-time, "but I never saw him do anything else, though he might have. He gave me some once". (Mr. Armstrong also developed a pot habit, as well.) Somehow, it never occurred to me to ask questions: after all, this was great stuff! What did Charlie do next? Did Dizzy help him?
And so it continued: by my early twenties, Charlie Parker was "getting sick, and he had problems hitting the vein with the dropper...And then Red Rodney, who also liked fun..."
It may not have been scrupulously honest in the letter of the law, but I don't know which version I've liked better, and yes, I do love jazz.