I just started watching the documentary Tell Them Anything You Want: A Portrait of Maurice Sendak on Hulu (not realizing Sendak had just died on May 8). It made me sad discovering this news.
Sendak was as much a part of my young literary life as Dr. Seuss, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Julie Campbell/Kathryn Kenny (Trixie Belden books, of course), but he also carried far into my adult life as well. I credit my mother with this.
It never failed, when I got sick, I wanted chicken soup with rice. And I wanted my Chicken Soup With Rice book — as a child and as an adult! When I was a kid, my mom always read the book to me. It was the sound of the words heard and felt as I leaned my fevered brow against her chest that was as soothing as the soup itself. Once I grew up, I usually just settled for reciting it in my head, “sipping once, sipping twice, sipping chicken soup with rice…” because that’s what you do when the words settle in your heart over the years. Sendak’s work had/has that power. A mother’s love has that power, too.
I still see, too, every creature from Where The Wild Things Are and the bakers in In The Night Kitchen. So, too, do I see the illustrations within the pages of Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present – those were his. And there are many more books that hold his words and images that I recognize in an instant and suddenly hear the story telling itself to me within my memory (often in my mother’s voice).
They were truly two of the greatest of my mother’s gifts to me: reading and imagination. They are the two greatest gifts any mother can give her children aside from love. Reading can inform imagination, imagination can enhance one’s reading, and the combination of the two can take a child anywhere in the world and/or beyond!
So, tonight I sit here, waiting for my laundry to rinse and spin, perhaps magically find its way into the dryer and then fold itself, that I find myself watching a documentary on a man with whom my mother and I spent many afternoons and evenings. While his life is, sadly, over now, his legacy lives on as I recall those very special days with the woman who gave me life and gave me the power to dream. I think it’s very fitting somehow. As well, the tradition carried forward with me and my own children, with other children for whom I’ve tended over the years. Good gifts like those are the best and easiest to share with everyone you can.
Thank you, Mom! Thank you for taking the time to start me down a path filled with curiosity and imagination and books and painting and creativity of all sorts. Thank you for introducing me to the works of Maurice Sendak. Thanks for not getting too angry when I acted a bit like Max or even one of the Wild Things. Thank you for creating a world wherein it was possible for me to dream and create on my own, with all these wonderful resources at my fingertips.
I’m sure I could have stumbled upon Sendak’s books on my own and all the other books I eventually read, but without my mother, I couldn’t fully appreciate them. She opened the door to the Room of Wonder for me and allowed me to roam about freely. She opened the door to the Room of Creativity and let me express myself in pencil, chalk, paint, photographs, writing, singing, storytelling (to dolls, guinea pigs, really anything that got caught in my path). All the good that has come from that is part of the many gifts she gave to me.
I managed to mess things up entirely on my own, but that, too, was another gift — sometimes you have to make mistakes and learn lessons on your own in order to get it right the next time (or the time after that). She trusted in me and had faith that I would find my way. As crazy as it sounds, I think she was right and I didn’t turn out all that terrible.
Thank you, Mom! I love you so very much. Thank you for everything, but mostly for your love and faith in me, for the encouragement, for teaching me to love reading, for teaching me that imagination is a necessary component in life, as is pursuing dreams, no matter how crazy they are.
Thanks, too, to Maurice Sendak, for giving kids’ fears and dreams a voice, for being both subtle and bold at the same time, and for creating works of art that will continue to be passed down through many more generations. Rest in peace, Mr. Sendak.
Mom, don’t you go getting any ideas! You’re sticking around for a while longer yet!