I woke up on May 8 to discover that Maurice Sendak, one of my favorite authors had died. I do not remember a time without Where the Wild Things Are. The story of Max, and his mother, has been a place I turn to for solace.
The story is well-known; Max wears his wolf suit and makes mischief. He does what children do best – he lives in imagination. Sendak once said, “Children do live in fantasy and reality; they move back and forth very easily in a way we no longer remember how to do.” Such a profound thought – children flow between fantasy and reality. Mr. Sendak also lived and wrote with the thought that children know more than we adults give them credit for. I agree with him; the children I know are observant and deep thinkers.
This point became all the more real to me when Lisa, Dmitri, and I went to see the movie Bully on Tuesday. The children followed by the filmmakers show great depth of thought and emotion. They flow between hope and hurt. They learn to release the pressure of their lives through their imaginations. For some this looks like making a change in their town, and for others it is through play. Whatever they do, it is this flow that keeps them moving. Yet, we all know that there are some who have lost the ability to flow.
Some children have lost the natural ability to flow between fantasy and reality – the ability that allows children to observe, grow, and create their own sense of safety – a place of respite. Bullying has become so prominent in their life that there is no getting away for them. It used to be that bullying happened at school and on the playground, but home was a safe place. Children could flow between fantasy and reality at home and restore their souls. Today, the bullying follows through texts and social media. It is harder to find a place to recover balance from the negative voices.
As adults, we want to protect children from harm. We’ve reacted to the pain we see children face and the dire consequences that can result from too much pain. We’re outside of the flow. What if we used our imagination in finding a way to end bullying?
Some schools have adopted a “No Tolerance” policy in regard to bullying. This means that any student found responsible for bullying another student is often punished in severe ways. I was recently in an elementary school and talked with a teacher about an incident where a 3rd grader was going to be expelled for bullying. My heart hurt for the children bullied, but it also hurt for the student who was doing the bullying. There is often pain in their lives, and they are trying to expel that pain through hurting others. They, too, have lost the ability to flow between fantasy and reality and can no longer find balance or solace. It would be more beneficial to our communities to get to the heart of the matter – discover the pain and hurt present in all involved.
This way of dealing with the harm of bullying will require that we all acknowledge our own ability to judge others and use that judgment to harm. It will mean that we begin to value all persons. It will ask us to flow between our imaginations and the reality of the world in which we live. I believe that we can do this; this is one of the reasons why I believe so strongly in the work we do in My Purple Umbrella.
Play dates encourage work in fantasy. We restore our souls and imaginations. We are restored and ready to go share the gift of our imagination with the world around. We do this to make our community, our world, better. We have the strength to do this because of those who’ve come before us and given us a trail to follow. We have the strength to do this because of those who walk with us now. We do this so that those who follow can turn the trail into a clear path. We do this so that when we return from where the Wild Things live there is a room of our own with a supper that is still hot.