Childhood in the present

A couple days ago Abbie and I were scrolling our New York Times app and came across THIS interview with Mo Willems.  He’s a children’s book author and illustrator.  Elephant and Piggie, and the stubborn Pigeon were frequent members of our library check out list.

Willems says his key insight is that “even a good childhood is difficult: you’re powerless; the furniture is not made to your size.”  He is skeptical of parents who seek his advice on how to talk with kids about the pandemic if it includes any attempt to control the child’s emotions.  He summarizes these inquiries as ‘Hey, you have a relationship with kids.  Help me control them.’  To which Willems gives an expletive and says to the hypothetical parent: “I’m not on your side.”  He offers that the best approach is to show children that you don’t know – you don’t even know how to discuss the pandemic with them. 

Willems also isn’t big on the sentiment that children are our future.  “Screw the future.  We’re the present.  It’s our job to be better human beings.” 

He also suggests that many kids stop drawing before they stop playing sports because of the modeling parents do and don’t do.  Things might be different if a kid would ask their parent if they can go out and play with them and the parent would respond, “Not now, I’m drawing.”  A child might pick up that this is an important activity.  In Willem’s mind, unstructured drawing, like all creativity, isn’t a way to flesh out an idea.  It’s a way to discover something that hadn’t even occurred as an idea.  Which comes back to control and power. 

Willems also speaks about his own experience parenting their child Trix who transitioned genders.  “Trix changed my whole life; everything about me.”  Willems is estranged from his own parents, and drew the line with them more sharply when it was clear their behavior was harming Trix.

Through reading this interview I’m reminded that a much more interesting and likely fruitful approach to relating with children is rather than trying to get them to become more like me, to see how I can become more like them.