Last year a client asked me to look over a rhyming children’s book she’d written. It was cute as a bug, but something wasn’t quite right. I picked one page and read it over and over. At last it hit me: it had ambiguous feet.
As opposed to this…
Left foot, left foot, right foot, right.
Feet in the day
Feet in the night.
There’s only one way to read that — the way Dr. Seuss wanted you to. He was a master of metrical feet — repeating patterns of stressed and unstressed syllables — which opened up children’s literature in a way we take for granted now. He saved us from Dick and Jane. Seuss is so perfectly metered that you can’t say it wrong.
A federal judge inadvertently proved the point last September when he tried, and failed, to imitate Seuss in a ruling from the bench. The judge had received a hard-boiled egg in the mail from a prison inmate protesting his diet, then declined the inmate’s request for an injunction, as follows:
I do not like eggs in the file
I do not like them in any style.
I will not take them fried or boiled
I will not take them poached or broiled.
I will not take them soft or scrambled
Despite an argument well-rambled.
No fan I am of the egg at hand.
Destroy that egg! Today! Today!
Today I say! Without delay!
He screws the pooch in the second line, inserting an extra syllable (“in”), then again in the transition from “scrambled” to “despite.” And the last stanza is pure embarrassment. Did this judge sleep through the day in law school when they covered iambic tetrameter?
The point! The point! The point! The point!
Could you, would you, like the point?
My youngest daughter is on a Seussian bender lately. We’ve been alternating The Lorax and Oh The Places You’ll Go! for weeks — two of his four greatest (the others are Horton Hears a Who and the Grinch. Spare me The Cat in the Hat.)
We were in the middle of Oh, The Places You’ll Go! last week:
You’ll look up and down streets. Look ’em over with care.
About some you will say, “I don’t choose to go there.”
With your head full of brains and your shoes full of feet,
you’re too smart to go down any not-so-good street.
And you may not find any you’ll want to go down.
In that case, of course, you’ll head straight out of town.
It’s opener there, in the wide open air.
Out there things can happen and frequently do
to people as brainy and footsy as you.
Erin (9): Is he still alive?
Erin: Dr. Seuss.
Dad: Oh. No, he died about fifteen years ago, I think. But he had a good long life first.
And when things start to happen,
don’t worry buy viagra pills online uk. Don’t stew.
Just go right along.
You’ll start happening too.
OH! THE PLACES YOU’LL GO!
I suddenly became aware that Delaney (6) was very quietly sobbing.
Dad: Oh, sweetie, what’s the matter?
Delaney: Is anybody taking his place?
Dad: What do you mean, punkin?
Delaney: Is anybody taking Dr. Seuss’ place to write his books? (Begins a deep cry.) Because I love them so much, I don’t want him to be all-done!
I hugged her tightly and started giving every lame comfort I could muster — well, everything short of “I’m sure he’s in Heaven writing Revenge of the Lorax.”
I scanned the list of Seuss books on the back cover. “Hey, you know what?” I said. “We haven’t even read half of his books yet!”
Feeble, I know. So did she.
“But we will read them all!” she said. “And then there won’t be any more!” I had only moved the target, which didn’t solve the problem in the least.
In addition to “paleontologist, archaeologist, and marine biologist,” Laney wants to be a writer. I seized on this, telling her she could be the next Dr. Seuss. She liked that idea quite a bit, and we finished the book. The next day she was at work on a story called “What Do I Sound Like?” about a girl who didn’t know her own voice because she had never spoken.
My instinct whenever one of my kids cries — espcially that deep, sincere, wounded cry — is to get them happy again. This once entailed nothing more than putting something on my head — anything would do — at which point laughter would replace tears. It’s a bit harder once they’re older and, instead of skinned knees, they are saddened by the limitations imposed by mortality on the people they love.
But is “getting them happy again” the right goal?
I’m often asked in interviews how I help my children accept death without the afterlife. Accept it?! Hell, I don’t accept it! People who “accept” death tend to fly planes into buildings. To think that I can or even should blunt that sadness too much is a suspect idea. Yet too often, I try.
Death is immensely sad, even as it makes life more precious. It’s supposed to be. So I shouldn’t be too quick to put something on my head or dream up a consolation every time my kids encounter the sadness of mortality. Sometimes it’s good to let them think about what it means that Dr. Seuss is all-done, and to cry that deep, sincere, heartbreaking cry.