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Carly Stasko reflects on teaching values of civic engagement and self-expression to her young toddler by writing her own nursery rhyme about the world wide Pussy Riot Protests.

Recently on my lunch break I snuck into the bathroom and donned a mask and bright coloured dress so I could attend the Free Pussy Riot Demonstration outside of the Russian Consulate. I was inspired to go because these women courageously staged a stunt using art and music to challenge Putin’s regime.  For their creative act of critical thinking they have been arrested as hooligans. I’ve been following the story of their trial and when I saw the global response I wanted to stand up in solidarity with these pussy punks, women and mothers.

Though I didn’t bring my son with me to the demonstration, I wondered how to explain to him what I was doing.  I wanted to celebrate their courage and how people all over the world have been rallying together in support of freedom of speech, but I also wanted to acknowledge that injustice and resistance are complicated and that even without a happy ending these situations can be inspiring and positive.

This may sound like it’s way too complicated for a young toddler—perhaps I should just stick with See Spot Run rather than “See Spot Riot”. However, when I look at his daily life, in addition to so much music, love, and bright colours, it’s also filled with powerful early experiences of injustice and emotions such as anger, fear and courage.  Every day I witness the early beginnings of his childhood journey toward independence, and I try to teach him the values of creativity, determination, rebellion, self-expression, and collaboration to help him find his way and be heard.  These early lessons of “using your words” rather than just having a tantrum are powerful skills for both interpersonal and socio-political engagement that I hope to model and teach him for years to come.

Given all this, perhaps the story of Pussy Riot isn’t so foreign or too “grown-up” for a toddler after all. So I turned it into a nursery rhyme (a genre that never shies away from the darker aspects of life) to share the story of Pussy Riot with my young son.

Once Upon a Riot

By Carly Stasko, 2012

Three women strong and wise,

Had the courage to criticize.

They sang a song with a message true

To the biggest bully they ever knew.

He heard their song and filled with rage,

He tried to put them in a cage.

And so they sang another song,

And soon the whole world sang along.

Different people everywhere

Knew the bully wasn’t fair.

Some are poor, some are small,

Yet share the greatest power of all.

The power to speak, the courage to tell,

The stories they’ve lived and known so well.

But not all stories end with smiles,

Or happy endings, and winning trials.

The bully may still win this round,

But can’t erase the mighty sound

Of many voices far and wide,

Singing brave and true with pride.

Big or little, day or night,

Freedom of speech is a human right.

So sing your songs, and tell your truths,

Let them echo from the roofs.

United, Strong, Wise, and Free.

With Courageous Vulnerability!

If you have a song, you can sing with me,

We’ll be the change we want to see.


Homework: Take a look around you at the stories and issues that matter to you.  How would you translate these complex adult narratives into age-appropriate stories that your children would understand and care about? We don’t always give kids enough credit in terms of what experiences may resonate with them.  The process of sharing the adult world with them on their own terms may teach us a thing or two and you never know what they may add to the discussion.

Carly Stasko is a self-titled Imagitator, one who agitates imagination. She is also an artist/writer/producer/public speaker/cancer survivor/new mom living in Toronto. For more Carly Stasko, check out her radio stories on CBC’s Definitely Not the Opera and her blog, Imagitate the State.

Find more of Carly’s How to Raise a Parent articles here.


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