Children are tough, though we tend to think of them as fragile. They have to be tough. Childhood is not easy. We sentimentalize children, but they know what’s real and what’s not. They understand metaphor and symbol. If children are different from us, they are more spontaneous. Grown-up lives have become overlaid with dross. (The Paternal Pride of Maurice Sendak, The New York Times, 1987, source: Philly.com )
Maurice Sendak, you made my son’s childhood.
I think every child has a special book that gets them through those days where they need a little help, to feel like they’re not alone. Something from Nothing was Sky‘s happy place, and A Difficult Day was where sensitive Ben retreated when his day had treated him harshly.
Where the Wild Things Are was J’s solace, Max his partner-in-crime, someone just like him. They had so much in common, which was a blessing for a kid like mine who always felt different. Both boys were terribly misunderstood, and most certainly up to all manner of little boy mischief. While J never got sent to bed without supper (although I was tempted), he did spend some time in his room (a lot), and I’m sure he would have liked to sail to the land of the wild things (maybe he did), where he would be King and not the baby of the family. And, J learned, just like Max, that he was loved, that he was wanted, no matter what.
“But the wild things cried, “Oh please don’t go – we’ll eat you up – we love you so!”
And Max said, “No!”
The wild things roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws but Max stepped into his private boat and waved goodbye.”
For a boy like J, who was eternally in trouble, I’m sure that Where the Wild Things Are spoke to his fears that one day he would push too far and we wouldn’t love him anymore. That when we were mad, we wanted him to go to the jungle, to the Wild Things, never to return. Through Max, he realized that no matter what you did, and where you were, home was where the heart was.
“And Max, the king of all wild things, was lonely and wanted to be where someone loved him best of all.”
Sure, the storyline in Where the Wild Things Are is ‘disturbing’ in these times of helicopter parenting. But, remember that it was written in 1963. Those were simpler days when kids rode their bikes around the neighbourhood looking for bugs, set off stink bombs, played Mother May I, and disappeared on adventures until they were called in for supper.
Sure, Max poked his dog with a fork and told his mother he was going to eat her alive. But, he was MAD.
Haven’t you ever been so mad that you wanted to do something so naughty, so forbidden? I know that I get that way, and I’m an adult (Confession: When I get really furious, I throw socks. They’re harmless, but make their point.) I’m very sure that my J used to get so frustrated, so angry, and I’m happy that he found a compatriot in Max.
We’ve been through about four copies of Where the Wild Things Are over the years: one was ripped up by an excited three year old, another had a glass of water dumped on it, and I do believe the softcover is still in J’s room, for those times when he still needs it.
Copy #4, an anniversary edition, is up on a shelf, just waiting patiently for the next child that we encounter that might just need a friend like Max.
(Quotes from Where the Wild Things Are, Maurice Sendak, pub 1963)
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