Two days ago I took my ten year old son and his friend to a lake near our house after school. They built an elaborate sandcastle all about design and structure but not about pretending. Then they chased each other around the beach, menacing one another with buckets of cold lake water, calling each other "dude," and eventually jumping in to swim. I noted to myself with some sadness that they are closer to their teen years than to their toddlerhood. It put me in mind of Billy Collins' beautiful and bittersweet poem, "On Turning Ten." Here's a bit of it:
At four I was an Arabian wizard.
I could make myself invisible
by drinking a glass of milk a certain way.
At seven I was a soldier, at nine a prince.
But now I am mostly at the window
watching the late afternoon light.
Back then it never fell so solemnly
against the side of my tree house,
and my bicycle never leaned against the garage
as it does today,
all the dark blue speed drained out of it.
This is the beginning of sadness, I say to myself
as I walk through the universe in my sneakers.
It is time to say good-bye to my imaginary friends,
time to turn the first big number.
It seems only yesterday I used to believe
there was nothing under my skin but light.
If you cut me I could shine.
But now when I fall upon the sidewalks of life,
I skin my knees. I bleed.
Wow, right? Fortunately, my ten year old still sometimes pretends and plays as if he has the magic in him. Fortunately, he doesn't yet seem to feel the wistfulness of the speaker, but it's coming, and that's why this poem moves me so. You can find it in its entirety, along with 94 other poems, in Poetry Speaks to Children, a terrific anthology with an accompanying CD which has 52 of the poems read aloud, many by the authors. All the greats are in there: Robert Frost, W.B. Yeats, Roald Dahl, Langston Hughes, Nikki Giovanni, Galway Kinnell (on why crying lots is a must), Tolkien, and more. We are rounding third base on the school year, and if you are looking for a good gift for a teacher, this would be a nice addition to any first through fifth grade classroom.
If you'd like to hear some of the selections, including our beloved Roald Dahl, click here.