The kids at Johnny’s preschool have become obsessed with Puff. This impresses me. I learned the song when it was already a good five years old (it was originally a poem written by Leonard Lipton, Peter Yarrow’s roommate at Cornell, but recorded by Peter Paul & Mary in 1962). The song fascinated and haunted me. My father would sing it at nighttime on the beach in Long Island, and after I got to a certain age (probably seven) I would have to run away to cry. Recently I heard the song was a favorite among the kids, so when I came in to do music with them, of course I included it. To my amazement, the teachers were all wiping their eyes, but the kids were just fine. I think they benefit from hearing stories that are “real,” and “Puff” is as real as anything you might read in the news.
In my guitar class for parents, we are learning Cindy Kallet’s wonderful “Tide and the River Rising.” All of us tear up on verse three:
Watch that little boy go walking
My lover, watch him as he learns to run
Watch him as he rounds the corner out of sight
Then tumbling back in our arms he comes
What is more poignant than the passage of time, marked by our own aging? And within that, the way that our very hearts change, how that which was so precious to us–painted wings and giants rings making way for other toys–loses its luster. These are painful truths, but I love that children (younger than seven, perhaps) can hear these songs, integrate their message, and grow from them.
Do you shield your children from sad songs? Why? For their sake or yours?