Wednesday, May 09, 2012
Maurice Sendak Made Me a Better Mother
News of Maurice Sendak's death yesterday morning reached me, ticker-tape-style, on the homepage of the Huffington Post.
Overwhelmed with sorrow, I called Big Babe in Berlin.
"I'm so sad," he said, by way of introduction. "I just heard that Maurice Sendak died."
"That's why I'm calling," I said, dissolving into tears.
"Did u hear Maurice Sendak died?" I texted Middle Babe at work immediately after I hung up with her older brother.
"Ya so sad," she texted right back, adding a frowning emoticon.
Rather than interrupting Little Babe during the school day, I hit him with the news when I returned from work. He was playing Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb" in his room.
Little Babe stood with his electric guitar slung across his hips, looking stricken. "That's terrible," he said, pausing to absorb the information.
More than any other picture book (and there were scores) that I read to my three children, "Where the Wild Things Are" occupied its own place. I read it so constantly that I think I can still recite it by heart, so many years later. Though "Wild Things" was published when I was three years old, it somehow eluded my notice until I was a young mother. Charged with my own children to educate and captivate, I fell upon it as a beloved book of my own, delighting in my discovery.
In my rendition of "Where the Wild Things Are" the Wild Rumpus had a song -- the most famous riff from Offenbach's "Orpheus in the Underworld" -- namely the melody known as the "Can Can." When I reached the prose-free middle pages, which depicted the Wild Things dancing crazily yet devotionally as at some underworld Shabbaton, I would sing the "Can Can," tilting and shaking the book all the while.
I have no idea just why I deemed Offenbach an appropriate Wild Rumpus soundtrack but it worked. It worked so well, in fact, that I shared my rendition with my children's friends and the various children whose parties I performed at as Shira the Drama Lady, a long-ago persona, a weekend identity I slipped into while wearing a fairy princess outfit and body glitter and carrying a magic wand.
There is so much to say about the multiple ways in which Maurice Sendak changed the world -- through his psychological insights, his art, his subversive views on what children's literature should be, his skillful blending of the gleeful and the grotesque.
For me, the essential legacy of Maurice Sendak was his ability to capture the magical thinking of a small child, who -- while exiled to his room by his mother -- escaped his punishment and powerlessness by building a boat to a fantastical, faraway land entirely within his own mind. The essential spirituality of this great artist is contained in the book's reassuring conclusion: Max, the King of all Wild Things was lonely and wanted to be where someone loved him best of all, so he sailed back into the night of his very own room where he found his supper waiting for him.
And it was still hot.
Here is a way-weird, cynical hipster rendition of "Where the Wild Things Are" by Christopher Walken: