A poem soothes the savage toddler
BOSTON — It's absolutely amazing and I'm puzzled. But again, a generation later, a poem rescued me in a desperate dealing-with-unhappy-children situation and it was wonderful. Just the reading of a simple little poem.
I remember the first time I discovered it. Three of our little boys (now parents themselves) were in the middle of a knock-down-drag-out fight over a toy truck. A fourth was in the corner sobbing.
It was late afternoon, guests were coming for dinner, rain was pouring outside, and I was beside myself. I threatened every threat, bribed every bribe, and pleaded every plea. Nothing worked.
As a last resort, I grabbed a book and collapsed on the sofa. It contained Eugene Field's poem, which I had intended to read to the boys someday.
Wynken, Blynken, and Nod one night
Sailed off in a wooden shoe -
Sailed on a river of crystal light,
Into a sea of dew.
I was amazed as the battle ebbed and the boys slowly joined me on the sofa. Suddenly all was silent except for the sound of my voice.
Since then, a poem became my never-fail remedy in all sorts of thorny situations.
This came back to me the other evening while I was caring for two of our grandchildren. It was bedtime, they missed their parents, and both were crying. Then I remembered. Would it still work, a generation later?
High on a shelf, I found in Robert Louis Stevenson's "A Child's Garden of Verses":
I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me,
And what can be the use of him is more than I can See.
He is very, very like me from the heels up to the head;
And I see him jump before me, when I jump into my bed.
I watched in amazement as it worked again.
The truth is: a poem works. It fits into almost any little place. It can fill tiny desperate spaces of time - waiting in a long line of traffic or while a summer shower ends. At bedtime, a poem quiets the I-don't-want-to-go-to-bed syndrome and soothes dark-night jitters. Maybe the sing-song of a poem has some link with the rocking of a cradle. Whatever. Children love it.
There are, of course, other excellent reasons to include poetry in children's lives. One is the sensitivity it adds. These days, little time is spent voicing appreciation for anything, let alone a sunset or a cloud or tree. But poems still sing praises.
If we teach children to love poetry, we add another dimension to their lives, an introduction to Tennyson, Whitman, Dickinson, Frost, and all the others who have made life more meaningful.
But the immediate, wonderful, amazing reason remains: A poem will calm your children, quiet your day, and gentle your life. The power of a poem is awesome.
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