Puff…Off They Go

Posted May 17, 2018

by Amy Lemieux

As the school year draws to a close and we say goodbye to some of our students heading to kindergarten, I get sentimental. Puff the Magic Dragon, a poem written in 1959 and later turned into a song, was a childhood favorite of mine, sung with great gusto. As a child, I knew it to be a happy song about a friendly dragon who empowered and played with a little boy. It wasn’t until adulthood that I realized it was about the enchantment and subsequent fading of childhood. (Author’s note; this blog will be meaningless if you don’t read the words to the song).

Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honahlee
Little Jackie Paper loved that rascal Puff
And brought him strings and sealing wax and other fancy stuff
Together they would travel on a boat with billowed sail
Jackie kept a lookout perched on Puff’s gigantic tail
Noble kings and princes would bow whene’er they came
Pirate ships would lower their flag when Puff roared out his name
A dragon lives forever but not so girls and boys
Painted wings and giant rings make way for other toys
One gray night it happened, Jackie Paper came no more
And Puff that mighty dragon, he ceased his fearless roar
His head was bent in sorrow, green scales fell like rain
Puff no longer went to play along the cherry lane
Without his life-long friend, Puff could not be brave
So Puff that mighty dragon sadly slipped into his cave 

The few times our student have gleefully sung this song upstairs with the seniors, I admit I couldn’t get through it without crying. It is not all tears of sadness for the passing of time, however. Mine are largely tears of gratitude that our teachers have created a space where children are free to play with dragons every day.  I am so thankful these teachers understand that joining the children in their wonder is a central factor that generates this magic.  It is walking into a classroom and to see Kylen strum her air guitar, getting as into the “Firetruck” song as the kids, or Jenny acting out a believable interpretation of the big bad wolf at our community room plays. It is Amanda being as wide-eyed as the kids because there are pirates living upstairs and poop trees growing outside, Rita composedly going along with having “witch hair” for Halloween, or Sal being as happy about a child getting his jacket on as the child. My gratitude comes from listening to Sarah Sivright read from Jenny and the Cat Club and being on the edge of her seat at the end of every chapter even though she’s read the book forty times, for Diane Dombrock whose passion has created a genuine reverence for rocks and for Diane Belfiori who is so generous and trusting with her own instruments that she allows preschoolers to play them. And it is Sarah Kern who excitedly created a cozy bear cave this year that not one child played in – ever.  Embracing the true nature of early childhood only happens with those who are totally devoted to and have an affection for children this age.
The original words of “Puff” were a poem written by Leonard Lipton, a 19-year-old college student at Cornell University. Lipton added another verse that never made it into the song, where Puff meets another child to play with. I know I would have found great comfort in this verse. As some of our children head off to kindergarten, new students will arrive to play with Puff and our teachers.