The Things We Carry

Today I read this poem with a 6-year-old boy:

Skin Stealer by Shel Silverstein

This evening I unzipped my skin

And carefully unscrewed my head,

Exactly as I always do

When I prepare myself for bed.

And while I slept a coo-coo came

As naked as could be

And put on the skin

And screwed on the head

That once belonged to me.

Now wearing my feet

He runs through the street

In a most disgraceful way,

Doin’ things and sayin’ things

I’d never do or say.

Ticklin’ the children

And kickin’ the men

And dancin’ the ladies away.

So if he makes your bright eyes cry

Or makes your poor head spin,

That scoundrel you see

Is not really me –

He’s the coo-coo

Who’s wearing my skin.

He thought it was the funniest thing in the world.  Meanwhile I am sitting there with my mouth agape.  Did I mention that it is also coupled with this image (forgive the crap image quality).

I uncomfortably hurried on to the next poem in Silverstein’s A Light in the Attic and it wasn’t until my long train ride back into Manhattan that I realized how completely ridiculous I was being.  In fact, I, too, remember thinking this poem was funny when I was kid.  But as an adult I find it uncomfortable, disturbing, and morally problematic.

We are all carrying pasts in our pockets and these pasts inform every single moment of our day.  They inform which brand of toothpaste you trust and buy, how you react to meeting a new person, and, even, how you read a text.  Each of our pasts are different and a child’s past, a much smaller and typically more protected past, is going to inform what they read.  A child reads things differently than, say, me, a 26-year-old adult with a history of lying, deceptive…well…men.  I don’t see the coo coo man as lighthearted and by no means jovial…I see it as an excuse for awful heartbreaking behavior.  But this is all because of my weighty pockets filled with a very specific past.  So I reacted to it.  I turned the page. I asked no questions.  I potentially stifled a kid’s enjoyment.  A kid whose pockets were filled with a completely different past that found joy in the coo coo man and his silly trickster ways.

I have thought about this subject time and time again in a classroom setting and today I realized how incredibly easy it is to get trapped in our adultness; to think that what we find valuable is valuable.  But we know nothing about childhood…no matter how good our memory…and what we should value is the child’s sense of value.  Let them play, let them think, let them laugh, and you just sit there, not turning the page.

Published in: on October 15, 2010 at 1:33 am  Leave a Comment  

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