Last night I took B to see Where the Wild Things Are. Although I know it’s been getting lots of great reviews, I didn’t actually know what the story was about and so wasn’t prepared for the effect it was going to have on B – as the credits rolled she was on my lap, being rocked back and forward, sobbing loudly. She is a rather sensitive soul and I think the character of Max had struck a chord with her.
In the opening scenes we see Max being ignored and ridiculed by an elder sister and frustrated with a work at home mum – both scenarios I’m sure B will understand well. Max’s anger and frustration are barely containable and he is prone to outbursts of uncontrollable, often violent rage. The look on his face near the beginning of the film after he has bitten his mother on the shoulder is one I recognised only too well – a look of panic almost, fear definitely, at the anger inside him, as the strength of his feelings overwhelm him.
As an intense, passionate seven year old, with an undeniably short fuse, B often experiences this same loss of control. As a parent it can be hard to deal with, frightening sometimes to see someone so small so angry, but imagine how it must feel to be that child, to feel so full of rage that you can’t contain it, can’t stop it spilling out of you, can’t help but shout and kick and scream.
After the film I asked B if she could understand how Max felt when he was running and yelling and hitting things with sticks. “Of course I can,” she said, “it’s when you feel so angry, you just don’t know what to do with yourself.”
As adults we are taught to control these feelings, to rein in the extremes of our emotions, but many young children have yet to develop this skill, if that is what it is. Is it actually a bad thing to be able to vent frustrations so immediately and ferociously? I spent nearly nine years with B’s father suppressing my anger about a whole host of things, keeping my annoyances under wraps, nurturing instead an atmosphere of unspoken, seething resentment. Perhaps we’d both have been much better off if I’d been able to stand on the kitchen counter and shout at him or run off into the woods and hit stuff with sticks…