Kings and queens of the Wild Things

Jewish children's author and artist Maurice Sendak died this week, but his stories--including Where the Wild Things Are, one of the most beloved children's classics of all time--will live on forever.

Max, the boisterous protagonist in Sendak's book, taught us we could go anywhere we wished without ever leaving our bedrooms or letting our soup get cold. Our worlds were as big as we could dream in our imaginations.

I learned this week that the "Wild Things" in the book were inspired by the Yiddish expression, "Vilde chaya," used to describe rambunctious children.

My Hebrew name is Chaya, and when I was a little girl, I was a lot like Max.

I wasn't a naughty kid, sent to my room without dinner--I've always liked food way too much to skip a meal--but I loved pretending. Pretending to be a movie star, a store clerk, a doctor, a teacher, an astronaut, and even the president.

I was constantly pretending, making up stories in my mind. It was later that I started writing my stories down, which I'm sure marked the origins for my future career in writing.    

And it wasn't just me. We were all like Max, creating worlds of make believe. We were the kings and queens of the Wild Things, or whatever the equivalent of the Wild Things were in our own imaginations.

Today, things have changed. Children don't have as much time to let their imaginations fly as we used to, to let the "forest grow" inside their rooms.

For one thing, after a long day at school, kids race from ballet to soccer to oboe lessons to kids pilates, which doesn't leave them much unstructured time for play.

When they do return home, they're bound by hours of homework before bedtime. And with kids' calendars so crowded these days, how rare it is for them to even have time for a home cooked family dinner anymore.

When I was a kid, I participated in some activities, but I also had plenty of time to myself to just play. I remember my mom would say how she wanted my sister and me to go outside, throw a ball in the air, and look at the interesting shapes formed by the clouds in the sky.

Today, there isn't much time to spot an octopus or a unicorn in the clouds and that's a loss.

The other impediment to imagination these days is electronic. Now, when kids are sent to their rooms, rather than taking off into outer space, they're taking off into cyberspace, messaging their friends and passing the time on Facebook.

And imagination shouldn't stop with our kids. We adults need some unstructured, unplugged time to dream too.

As we pay tribute to Sendak, let's remember that there's a Max in all of us, big and small. And in this crazy busy, electronic-obsessed culture, we all should stop and put on our wolf suits every once in a while and sail off to the where the wild things are.

Reflections from your editor, Cindy Sher, on people living their Jewish lives each day.... Read More

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