Where the Wild Things Are

One special aspect of being a parent is revisiting the cherished books of my childhood

By Maggie Doherty

As a book lover, one special aspect of being a parent is revisiting the cherished books of my childhood and being introduced to the books that my husband loved, like The Ox-Cart Man. We’ve filled our son’s bookshelves with the staples from our childhoods, and, like many other parents, we smile when we read Goodnight Moon, The Cat in the Hat, or The Snowy Day. Many of these books are framed within childhood memories, relics of when we’d beg our parents to read it, again! However, there is one book for me that isn’t relegated to my younger years: Where the Wild Things Are. It was a favorite book when I was a little girl, and I could easily identify with Max, because, like him, I was often making mischief of one kind or another and frequently sent to my room for a timeout. I had a vivid imagination and often tried to run away from home but would fall short of my quest when I couldn’t lift my jammed-packed suitcase.

I was raised by parents who encouraged my imaginary friends and allowed me – outside, that is – to enact my own “wild rumpus.” I don’t know where the original Doherty family copy of the book is, likely given away years ago or perhaps torn to shreds in a temper tantrum by yours truly. But I now have a newer copy, one that I likely bought in college or when I first moved to Montana. It’s stayed with me since and I wrote my name on the title page so it wouldn’t be lost again.

When I was in my mid-20s I took my first management job as a director of a children’s outdoor education center along the North Fork of the Flathead River. I was really out of my element and found the job challenging as I’d never managed staff before. But I absolutely loved camp. For two summers in my 20s, I was joined by a crew of people like me who would work for pennies, bunk with the kids at night, cook meals, and turn on the generator before dawn. We loved showing kids how to identify trees, use a compass, and net aquatic invertebrate from the nearby creek. There was no cell service for miles, and town was at the end of a long dirt road.

On the campers’ last night, we’d host an elaborate ceremony celebrating their week in the woods. I’d dress up like Mother Nature, wearing a large flowery dress and paint my face with flowers and vines. We’d host our own wild rumpus with the kids at the campfire where we’d have songs, s’mores and share our favorite memories of the week. The staff at the camp was too kind to indulge my enthusiasm for dress-up, rumpuses, and camp songs belted at the top of our lungs.

They also knew how much I loved Where the Wild Things Are, and one day in August after returning to camp after a morning of running errands I found my bedroom utterly transformed. The ceiling sprouted branches – in fact, the whole room was a forest above my bed. In the corner of the room, hung a sign: “and the walls became the world all around,” one of my favorite lines from Maurice Sendak’s book. To cheer me up, this small group of people took to making my bedroom into the world, and in doing so, made magic during the blur of schedules, cranky generators and homesick kids.

And each time I read the book to my son, a giant smile blooms on my face when we get to that line.

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