Wednesday, May 9, 2012
Goodbye Maurice Sendak
Children's Book Author, Maurice Sendak, Lives On
As a parent of young children, I can attest to how my oldest who is now seven, loved Where The Wild Things Are when we read it to him a few years ago. He liked In The Night Kitchen even more. At the time we read them I didn’t realize the story behind Sendak, who wrote and illustrated those two books. He also illustrated over 100 books that he didn’t write, and both wrote and illustrated many other books. He died this week at age 83.
The Brooklyn native (my former hometown) wrote books that did not always end happily or tell a sweet story. But he entertained the imaginations of generations of kids. He was most influenced by stories from his parents about the Holocaust. His parents fled Poland around World War II. The Jewish boy grew up as an ill child, often staying home with nothing to do but let his imagination run wild. Some of his earlier books were labeled too frightening and dark, but the kids loved them. Over 17 million copies of Wild Things have sold worldwide. It won the coveted Caldecott Medal, a children’s book prize equivalent to the Pulitzer. In 1997, President Bill Clinton awarded him the National Medal of the Arts.
Maurice, I hope you go to a place where the wild things truly are.
I would not necessarily want to be seven years old again but I love getting treated to glimpses of the world through a seven-year-old’s eye. They bring me back to my childhood in an instance and they’ll also propel me beyond the limits of my own reality and elevate me into the world of my imagination. I spend so much time trying to get my son to bend to my will—meet a schedule, do his chores, come sit and eat—that I forget parenthood is a two-way street. I need to—and delight in—seeing life through his playful, curious, and energetic character.
This past weekend I was more in tuned to seeing his vantage point. He played his first baseball game in an organized league. Granted, it was tee ball and they don’t keep score of the two-inning contest where everyone gets to hit each inning and no one seems to know how to get anyone out. But this was my wedding, my college graduation, my Bar Mitzvah. It was a celebratory day of reflection on my lifetime love affair with the game of baseball and a day to marvel at his first experience with the greatest sport ever invented. It was a real father-son bonding moment.
I didn’t know what to expect but held my breath, hoping he’d take to the game better than he did at our last attempt to participate in organized sports. At the age of three (probably too young) he stood in a daze on the soccer field while his peers did their best to kick a ball around. But this time, he showed excitement, enthusiasm, and focused attention.
He asked a zillion questions and you can see he was intent on sponging everything he needs to know in order to perform at a high level. I realized by his questions how little he knew of the game. I guess I never explained the basics but hoped he’d pick it up by osmosis while the Mets game would play on TV while we read bedtime stories.
The truth is the game has many intricacies and strategies. It’s a thinking person’s sport. Most sports are dominated by size and speed—football and basketball for sure. No doubt there’s a skilled athleticism needed to excel in any sport but baseball moves at a pace akin to a chess match. He’ll have many years to think his way through the sport.
For now it’s the beginning. He put on his baseball mitt for the first time, held a baseball for the first time, and swung a bat for the first time. Prior to this I pitched tennis balls to him while he wielded a plastic bat in hopes of turning into a backyard Babe Ruth. Not that long ago he hit whiffe balls off a rubber tee. Now he was hitting a hard, stitched ball and rounding the bases like Americans have been doing for nearly two centuries.
He loves getting dirty. After the game he kept sliding into different bases, head-first, leaving his new uniform shirt to have the look of having weathered an entire season. His sweatpants swallowed up globs of dusty and scattered pebbles, leaving a cloud of brown mist in his wake. He stood up, all smiles, like he’d just conquered the world.
The baseball diamond, at least for today, became the boundary of his world. One day he will move on and discover what resides beyond the safe harbor of the baseball field. But I just glow in his presence, in his unbridled enthusiasm for a game he doesn’t fully realize can hold so much wonder.
There’s nothing like starting with a clean slate. He gets to develop his own style of play, his own strategy, his own sense of fun and accomplishment. He doesn’t know the rules, the challenges or the frustrations such a game can bring. He doesn’t know what victory or defeat feels like. He doesn’t know what it feels like to be the hero or the goat. He’s clay but he won’t just be molded by me. He will now mold himself and I can’t wait to see what forms.
Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer, the nation’s leading book publicity firm. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person