Pardon me while I roar my terrible roar and gnash my terrible teeth and roll my terrible eyes and show my terrible claws.
Of course you too may have been indulging in some wild behavior, particularly if you’ve read and loved Maurice Sendak’s amazing “Where the Wild Things Are” (and who hasn’t?).
In the picture book, in beautiful lyrical phrasing, Sendak takes us on a journey with Max, a child who makes “mischief of one kind and another and another” until he is punished by being sent to his room.
There he imagines…
“That very night in Max’s room a forest grew, and grew, and grew until his ceiling hung with vines and the walls became the world all around. And an ocean tumbled by with a private boat for Max, and he sailed off through night and day, and in and out of weeks, and almost over a year, to where the wild things are.”
There he encounters “wild things,” monsters who embody Max’s ferocious id, roaring and gnashing in terrible style. It’s that id that cannot be leashed or controlled by irritating mothers who don’t want you to poke the dog with a fork. On the wild things’ island Max tames them by staring into their eyes and then has a glorious “wild rumpus” with them–that is, until he misses home. The wild things plead “oh please don’t go we love you so, but Max said no.” He comes back home where his dinner was waiting for him “and it was still hot.”
The book really is the perfect allegory of any child’s difficult but necessary attempts to control their own natural wild impulses. One of my kids had her own personal version in the form of an imaginary friend. This friend was an alien who was often more scared than my daughter but also more impish and messy. He was her “wild thing,” able to do, go, or say anything. At no time did my daughter assert that he was anything other than “imaginary”; this didn’t bother her or lessen his importance.
When it comes to coping mechanisms, I feel like it’s the kids that have it right in this case. After all, I’m not sure those impulses ever go away, nor does the attempt to control them gets much easier. At our hearts we still are animal creatures, sometimes longing to break free of all the constraints of society. Those animals still act out.
And so without further ado, I introduce you to my own wild thing. It’s a dragon, I think: huge, spindly, spikey. Brilliant glittering eyes. Sharp black claws that click on a floor. The scales burst with bold color, but not usually my favorites of blue and green – more often deep crimson and gold.
My dragon hates confinement. It loves soaring. It hates to nibble. It loves devouring. Its cries are piercingly loud. It is strong and sleek.
It’s not “real” any more than my daughter’s alien, but that doesn’t bother me either.
When people are irritating, as they frequently are, my dragon sits right there next to me, sharpening her claws.
When I have a plate full of warm cookies, my dragon perches on top of my head, opening its huge jaws to cram in as many as possible.
When I have to work or clean, my dragon paces nearby, stretching its wide wings against the walls in claustrophobic mania.
The dragon doesn’t break free… well, most of the time. But just as Max tamed the wild things, I too must learn to tame her and control my own wild impulses. In that way, she gives me clarity. Seeing my personal id, my wild thing, as my own dragon gives me insight on controlling myself.
My dragon will breathe out fire and bite irritating people, naturally. So I have to remember that my first impulse when responding to people might just be the dragon. I can take a breath, and wait for the dragon’s breath to cool down.
Likewise, would you just set a whole plate of cookies in front of a dragon and trust her to have just two? No way… take two out and put the rest away out of sight. She’s easily distracted that way.
When my dragon feels controlled and confined by responsibilities, I can remember that I can let her out later. I am not a person that can’t work or clean well… I’m a person with a dragon who longs to spread her wings. I can schedule a time to take a walk.
You can think of your own wild thing when you are in “Wild Thing” pose. It’s a back bend in which your stomach is in the air, feet spread (one on tip toe), one hand down to prop you up. It’s silly and fun and perfect for channeling your wild thing – whatever it may look like. Maybe yours is a bear or a tiger, or your own mishmash of teeth and claws.
In any case, after you come back down, you can relax back into normal life and society. Put your own wild thing to sleep and come back to your dinner – where I bet it will be still hot.