The Kids are All Right

I moved in with my wife-to-be when I was twenty-five. She was an aspiring children’s book author and I was an aspiring grownup’s book author. At that time, I had come to the conclusion reached by many young men: that the world was a place of hard edges and steep drops, of uncertainty, and where success was just an urban term for survival—I wasn’t happy about this, but if a boy is to become a man, he must first be willing to see things as they are. Which is to say, I wasn’t reading many children’s books. To do so would have been to remind myself of a time before I understood the world as it really was, a luxury I couldn’t afford. But I loved and trusted this woman I would soon have to marry if I wanted to keep being me. She had no hard edges or steep drops, and my love for her was quite certain, and my success was already achieved—and so it was one night I found myself reading A. A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh with her before bed.

I’m glad she reintroduced me to this book before we had children of our own and I would be required by the melting heart of fatherhood to embrace Little Bear, and Max and his Wild Things, and Grover, and even Barney. I’m glad I got to find some of these books again when I was still an angry young man. There is a uniquely tender kind of genius required to write what amounts to literature for children. Everything in the best adult fiction is in the best children’s fiction also, all the loss, and learning, and love. The child asks to be touched as deeply as the adult, as the soul has no height requirements. Yet what we don’t know often scares us, and there is so much nitty-gritty of the world children don’t yet know.

As I read about Pooh and Piglet and Rabbit and Eeyore I did not think about all the things I had learned recently that had been frightening me and which I was bearing as stoically as I could. I could not forget them, and they would frighten me again the next morning. But as with all art, Milne asked this question of me: If you feel better now here with me, why not tomorrow also? It would take me many, many years to answer, “No reason at all,” just about the time I was old enough I too could write for children if I wanted.

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