Where The Wild Things Are

While many people have loved and enjoyed Maurice Sendak’s “Where The Wild Things Are”, I do not count myself as one of those people. I can’t pin down an exact reason, but mostly I think it was because the story just didn’t resonate with me as a kid and I thought the drawing style was kind of odd. (These are my current words, not my words as a 7 year old.) As an adult however, I have developed a greater appreciation for him. Especially after reading a little bit about his latest book and his attitudes towards children.

As implied in this article from the New York Times, there are other adults who are also not fans of Mr. Sendak, although for much different reason than I. There are a significant portion of parents who don’t feel that his idea of children’s literature is particularly well suited towards children. In fact, they seem to find it too scary and “adult”. Controversial, even.

To his credit, Maurice seems to own the nature of his work. In essence, he acknowledges that the world of a child is not as innocent and straight-forward as all adults like to imagine. And he is right. Kids see trauma, have nightmares, get scared and are witness to and part of, a lot more than we realize. As a pediatrician, I would also submit that children are also a lot smarter and more observant than they get credit for. It is one of the things I love most about working with children.

As parents, we like to think we can protect them from all foreseeable problems. We try to encase them in a soft, cushy cocoon where no bad thoughts ever occur and where nothing bad ever happens. But that is not what really happens in the world. And there is nothing we can do to stop it. We shouldn’t even try. They should definitely be supported and know that they are not alone, helping to talk with them and debrief when bad things happen. I believe it makes them more well-rounded and emotionally more healthy because they can learn how to feel and deal with the full range of emotions, instead of pushing away and trying to suppress any and all bad feelings and difficult thoughts.

Words are powerful things. Not only do words contain knowledge, but they also contain power. The mastery over words gives people, including children, control over their world and their emotions. Some of the words that we are afraid to use with children involve body parts. We like to come up with cutesy and made up names for body parts when talking with children because the real words seem to carry a great deal of baggage for adults. Saying words out loud like penis, vagina, breast, nipple, testicles and scrotum conjure up a wide variety of feelings and emotions. I am sure that you were squirming a little in your seat reading that last sentence. I know that my heart rate went up a little bit when I decided to actually write them out.

To some degree, I know why this happens. For many, these are words that are dirty and should never be said. They conjure up certain images, thoughts and emotions not fit for public consumption. So instead we use silly words like who-who, booty, thingy, weenie and vajayjay. Are those really better than the actual name for the body part?

In the end, those are the correct names for the parts of the body. As long as you are using them correctly and matter-of-factly, they really should not be a big deal. In fact, I would propose that you might be doing more harm than good by using these made-up words. That is the power of words. By hiding these parts behind silly names and monikers, you are implying that they are parts that are dirty and forbidden. Or that they are silly and not to be taken seriously. To me, respect for your body and for making good decisions about your body, starts with having power over the names of your body parts.

This came up in my life starting when we were having our second child. Hannah was 4 1/2 when Amelia was born. While she ask every single question in book about where the baby was and how she got there, there were a few. They were more body part questions after Amelia was born and was breastfeeding. And while there has been a bit more use of “who-who” than I would prefer, I was on the whole proud of how we helped to guide Hannah through the this new adventure in human anatomy. There was no talk of mysterious deliveries via storks nor stories about magical mommy and daddy “hugs” that put Amelia mommy’s belly. It probably helped that Hannah did not ask a lot of probing questions, but then again kids tend to only want to know what they are ready to know.

That sounds like some kind of cheesy saying that belongs in a fortune cookie, so allow me to explain. As a general rule, I find that kids are only interested in the question at hand. So when Hannah asks where the baby is, she really just wants to know that. She doesn’t want to know how the baby got there or anything else from 5th grade Health Class. However, as soon as any sex-related question comes up, no matter how mild, parents invariably jump to the end of the story, complete with heart palpitations and sweaty palms. “I thought I had more time before I had to talk to my baby about sex” or “He is too young to be asking questions like this”, parents think. And so we swallow hard and prepare to start telling every single fact that we learned in that Health class and beyond. And yet, all she really wanted to know (and all she is probably prepared to handle) is “Where is the baby?”

While kids are not just little adults, they are smarter and savvier than they let on and childhood is not as innocent as it seems. Don’t lie, you knew a lot more about how the world works when you were a kid than you ever let on to your parents. Don’t you think your kids, nieces, nephews, godchild, little cousins or siblings are the same way? Channel you inner Maurice Sendak and give a kid their due. The world is going to be just as scary and dangerous whether or not you try to block that from the view of a child and you can’t prevent them from eventually heading out there. Why not send them out there as prepared as they can be, teaching them how to be smart and safe while you can still be there to be their training wheels. Despite being out with the Wild Things, in the end Max realizes on his own how lonely and homesick he really is and comes home safe and sound from Where The Wild Things Are.

 

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About ironsalsa

I'm just a man who likes to hear himself talk, yet pretends he can't stand himself.
This entry was posted in Family, Medicine and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Where The Wild Things Are

  1. Nicole McKenna says:

    I’m pretty sure foxy lady was the conduit to all of Hannah’s questions. I would have started the article there 🙂

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