One of the first songs I wrote for children is called “The Boo Boo Song.” It’s about getting hurt. The chorus is: Do you / Wanna see my boo boo? / Do ya, do ya, do you / Wanna see my boo boo?
I’d been working with two-to-four-year-olds at School of the New Moon in Mt. Tremper for a year or so. I noticed when I asked them about a scrape or a bruise, stories unfolded. If this transpired during “circle time,” i.e. when we all sat together on the purple cushion for singing, the audience of fellow preschoolers – even the scattered ones – were riveted by their comrades’ tales of falling down in the driveway, getting scratched by the new puppy, stubbing a toe, etc. Invariably, other children would be emboldened to share. Older kids sometimes exaggerated and/or lied – this skill generally arises around age four – sharing some whoppers about dragons, horses in the house, and such. It was never boring.
Watching the storytelling impulse flower before my eyes fascinated me. Here were developing humans, innately transforming pain into something that brought the collective together. Like little blues musicians. They inspired me to compose a song to spur this impulse on, nurture it. Tell your story, little one. Everybody wins.
I placed “the Boo Boo Song” in the key of E minor, as I’d discovered ancient folk songs with minor-key melodies tended to captivate more than “happy”-sounding songs. It is, indeed, a blues song. I offered autobiographical details, but kept it simple, as the kids did when they told their stories: I got stitches on my face from falling off the bed, a cat scratched me, I stepped on a tack. (All true!)
It was an instant preschool hit. They demanded I play it again, and again.
Eventually the subject of broken bones came up. I’d fractured both my arms and my right hand (not all at the same time) before I was 13. (I’d left these harrowing stories out of “the Boo Boo Song.”) I recalled strapping Dr. Allgood the orthopedist pointing out the healing “green bone” on my follow-up x-rays, and telling me, “Son, that’ll be stronger when it mends.” Thankfully, he did not tell me that, if and when I reached midlife, these fractures would ache before autumn storms; that, as the oldtimers say, I would “feel it my bones,” and be able to predict rain. But I do, and I can.
I told the preschoolers: “Hey, did you know that when you cut yourself, or when you break a bone, the hurt place is stronger when it heals?”
They were stunned. And again, because lying is generally not a concept preschoolers grasp, they believed me. I could practically see the wheels whirring in their minds, hear the crackling of connections being made.
“Even when someone hurts your feelings or breaks your heart, or you lose something really special,” I said. “The hurt won’t last. And when it stops hurting, you’re actually stronger.”
“Really? For true?”
“Yes. Really, for true.”
Granted, this is not a hard fast rule, and maybe I shouldn’t have gone there. But that’s where I was in my life at that time. I.e., I was healing from some of the most intense heartache of my life – a really awful streak that ran concurrent with my time at School of the New Moon. I was hoping I would, in fact, be stronger if and when I mended. But that day, while being mindful of propriety, I offered hope as truth. As a caregiver, I endeavor not to do this overmuch.
Fifteen or so years on, however, I don’t regret it. Because I have found that, like dreams, hope – even crazy, pie-in-the-sky hope – can fuel one towards all manner of unexpected good things. Those children are all over 18 now, heading into the world. While I doubt they recall what I said, may they feel hope in their bones.