Where the Wild Things Were

12.08.09: Leo's 18th month


“We’re going to see Where the Wild Things Are!” I announced to a childless couple we know. “Ohhhh,” they said slowly, exchanging pained looks. “What, not good?” I asked, recalling some very tepid reviews I’d read. “Well, the theater was overheated,” they said elusively.

I guess they hated it. We loved it. And the fact that we loved it has everything to do with the fact that we have our very own Wild Thing at home. I felt that the movie really explored the heartbreak that occurs regularly when you’re a Wild Thing.

For example, at the little toddler ‘cocktail’ party we hosted today, the kids were thrilled about the ball pit, and dove in repeatedly, shrieking with delight. Then they discovered the tasty snacks, and sat munching quietly like civilized beings. We adults began to have conversations. And as soon as we did, the ball pit lured the kids back.

“No snacks in the ball pit,” we said. “Sit down to finish your snack or let us hold your food while you play.” They’re just one-and-a-half, but they understood. For a while. Then, Leo grabbed a chip and made for the pit. “Nope,” I said, pulling him into my lap. “I take the chip or you sit.” It was too much. He lost his cool. He gnashed his teeth and stamped his feet and yelled and kicked. Heartbreak, disaster, uncontrollable fury, inconsolable lamentation and a great deal of noise ensued.

This happens every few hours all day, every day. Shouldn’t it be possible to be a Wild Thing all the time, to have fun and not care and act as crazy as you feel? Why isn’t that possible?

The movie really looks at that impulse, all the bruised bodies and egos that result, and the sadness that comes with being tamed. Because that’s what we must become to be around others: tamed, de-fanged. You cannot bite your mother, but you lose so much power and control when you’re young, and weak, and you aren’t allowed to use your teeth. It’s a noble and sad moment to watch every time Leo accepts that he can’t be as wild as he’d like, and it’s a surprisingly complex compromise for someone so young to have to make.

As Aaron and I left the theater, I felt sentimental. “If only we could just let Leo stand on the ottoman, jump on the cat, throw his bowl at the ceiling and run out of the house with no shoes or coat,” I sighed.

After the kids left today, we put Leo to bed then cleaned up the house. We decided to leave the ball pit set up for a few more days though. Tomorrow, while people everywhere sip coffee and read the paper, someone in footie dinosaur pajamas will be having a Wild morning.

Recipe: Spinach Squares for Kids