I just finished reading Mark Twain’s, Tom Sawyer to my daughters at bedtime tonight. It took us a few months to finish it, mainly because it was so good, we read it slowly. Tom, Huck, Aunt Polly, Becky, Injun Joe, and all the other colorful characters of St. Petersburg, Missouri have created the greatest celebration of Boyhood, perhaps in our time. The complexity and grandeur of the innumerable messes, capers, and adventures Tom Sawyer has accomplished/gotten mixed up in – and his complete and utter victory over all obstacles is no hoax! He is the great hero that boys see in themselves. He has lived the intricate adventures and come out victorious. But what makes him the beloved hero to us “grown-ups” is that he cannot, nor does not desire to quantify the greatness of his deeds – for he is so utterly inspired and lost in each moment of living.
Tom Sawyer is not great because he saves Becky Thatcher from death, nor because he saves the town from murderers and thieves, nor even because he wins the treasure and is the truest, most honorable friend ever. Nor is he a counterfeit hero because his greatest aspirations lie in pirating and robbing adventures, nor even yet, by his perennial pleasures in aggravating his loved ones “beyond all get out.” No, his greatness is not lessened because of our intimacy with the confusion of feelings and emotions that rise and fall within him. These are his greatest strengths in fact – strengths that far too often our society blots out in boys early on. But more than all of these philosophical ponderings…
Tom Sawyer is great simply because he is a boy.
Mark Twain teaches us to celebrate boys by listening to them, indulging in their world. The great finale comes when the whole town listens silently as the boys tell the wildest, scariest, greatest adventure story ever. The fact that the adventure really happened is a triumph for all the young readers, but the fact that everyone listened is a triumph for society. Perhaps Twain saw deeply into our culture and into the future – how we so easily can stunt the growth and joyful freedom in young boys simply by not celebrating them for just simply playing. The entire direction of a person can be changed just by listening and validating his experiences and emotions, and by celebrating them — for just simply being alive.
I read recently in an interview of Olympic athletes, when asked what was the most inspiring thing their parents ever did for them, the most frequent response was that they remember their parents saying often, “I love to watch you play.”
Tell your kids you love to watch them play. Celebrate their victories – real & imaginary. And, above all, listen to them.
* * *
“Although my book is intended mainly for the entertainment of boys and girls, I hope it will not be shunned by men and women on that account, for part of my plan has been to try to pleasantly remind adults of what they once were themselves, and of how they felt and thought and talked, and what queer enterprises they sometimes engaged in.”
– Tom Sawyer, Preface, by Mark Twain