Thank You, Maurice Sendak

Maurice SendakCrazy cooks. Big-toothed monsters. Whales in chicken soup with rice. Maurice Sendak defied the notion of a simple, safe world. With childhood as his foil, he explored the fanciful and the frightening, the whimsical and fantastical, the dark and the light. 
Maurice Sendak died Tuesday at the age of 83. In commenting on his life and work, The Washington Post commented:
Mr. Sendak was shaped foremost by a sickly and homebound childhood in Depression-era Brooklyn, the deaths of family members in the Holocaust and vivid memories as a youngster reading about the kidnapping and murder of aviator Charles Lindbergh’s infant son. An admitted obsession with “children and their survival” and the “humongous heroism of children” fueled a career of groundbreaking darkness in children’s literature. President Bill Clinton presented him with the National Medal of Arts in 1996, saying, “His books have helped children to explore and resolve their feelings of anger, boredom, fear, frustration and jealousy.”
Sendak’s genius was forged in a childhood crucible of violence and illness. That genius did not turn away from the terror but faced it forthrightly, celebrating that “humongous heroism” he saw within children.

The middle class American childhood today is a stark contrast to Mr. Sendak’s—scheduled, sculpted, and supervised beyond all reasonable requirement or good sense.

But Sendak knew that terrors and fears, real or imagined, are part of every childhood, regardless of background or means. Like Mickey and Max, children are whisked off to the night kitchen or run away in a fit of pique to where the wild things are. They still check to see if a monster is under the bed, or perhaps hide from real monsters in their lives. Or goblins in their chicken soup with rice.  

In all of our efforts to create uniformly happy and carefree childhoods and perfect children, let’s not forget the lessons of Maurice Sendak, who admitted and imagined and confronted the scary places that are always there, and then brought us home, “cake-free and dry.”

How can we each do that with and for the children in our care?

Photo by John Dugdale from the HaperCollins website.