I arrived to little voices chanting, “Da-nelle, Da-nelle, look we got!” Please don’t be another puppy, I thought. And boy was I ever happy to see a large broken box instead of an animal laying in the middle of the living room. Boss Mom looked at me and smiled, “I knew you’d like that.” And she was right. I really did like it! And I couldn’t wait to get started on turning it into something great!
We tossed around a few ideas: a sled, a dog, a person. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to meet their requests. So, we settled on a movie theater and I was imagining something epic! I was in charge of the cutting. They were in charge of the decorating. And when it was all done, we set it up, and they were interested for two minutes. Humf. That was not what I had planned at all. Refusing to give up on the great box, I tried Plan B. This time, I simply turned it around and put their play kitchen behind it. And voila, like that, The magic happened. As an adult I was thinking, this side isn’t even decorated, how can you like it better? But kids don’t see things like that. They see in things in an entirely different dimension. Soon, they forgot that it was a box at all. In their minds they saw a cafe in France where only the finest food was served. And even though je t’aime parler le francais avec les enfants, I was quickly ousted from the game as the four kids took over. There was no need for me, even with my fantastic french skills, to be involved in this activity. There was wall built between child and adult that I couldn’t break, no matter how hard I tried to be silly. This was an experience they wanted to share with their brothers and sisters alone. Like the dinosaur I once knew, this box transported the kids from reality. And so I sat down and watched and smiled: this is what childhood is about. It isn’t about things, but who we play those things WITH. And it won’t always be like this around here. We are all growing up so quickly. So I let them relish in one another. I let them forget about their chores and their homework. I let them play. I let them be kids. And I didn’t interrupt them. Nannying for a large family is beautiful. I don’t know how else to put it. I love my days here. They couldn’t get rid of me if they tried.
I firmly believe that a child’s ability to imagine sets them apart from adults.
This difference is beautiful and intriguing. And okay, if we’re being honest, sometimes this difference is hilarious, really hilarious. I mean, aren’t we all enthralled when we watch the little chickadees travel to England on a purple dinosaur to battle eleven flying monkeys by throwing waffles? (you can’t make that up, you just can’t!)
But this difference is also irreversible. And, once a child loses his imagination they in turn lose their innocence. Sadly, however, the ability to imagine is fleeting. So, we must harvest it in our little ones while we can. We must encourage it and embrace it, egg it on more than we think is necessary. We must do everything in our power as caregivers to stretch its growing season as long as we can.
So what do you do to harness your child’s imagination?
When I was living in Georgia, the girls had a dinosaur (*he lived in the backyard and to us adults he bore a strong resemblance to a fallen tree*). Bold and exotic, yet surprisingly friendly he would offer his scaly back for afternoons of climbing and adventure. Together they would ride to unknown lands until dinner was served. The dinosaur was a confidant for the girls. He allowed them to escape reality and challenge their minds. He allowed them to play, and he didn’t ask any questions. He was a welcomed member of the family, a talked about character at the dinner table, a sought refuge on boring afternoons. And years later, he is missed everyday. But more importantly, he is remembered, always.
I challenge you to look around for your children– to find a dinosaur for your own family. They’re out there, you know? You just have to use the eye of a child to find them.
Does your little chickadee have their own chickadee? A doll or a stuffed animal that they just can’t leave behind?
When I lived in Atlanta, the littlest one I watched certainly did. In fact, we were extra blessed because she happened to have twins: Charlie and Shelly. And they were quite the busy pair! Always wanting to eat ice cream and go places, always getting toys out and not taking care of them, always needing us to take extra care of them so they would stay out of trouble. Yes, Charlie and Shelly were quite the handful!
One day, my little chickadee came downstairs and announced that it was Charlie and Shelly’s birthday! And didn’t I feel foolish for not knowing! After all that time together, surely I should have marked it on my calendar.
“Well when is their birthday party?” I asked.
“TODAY!” she told me, “so we had better get to work!”
And so we did!
First, we made a picture list of everything we had to do. (Do you make picture lists with your little ones? They’re pretty simple. It’s just like a regular to-do list, only with pictures of your goals instead of words. This way, anyone can follow it- even the littlest chicks who can’t read. yet)
Next, we made decorations. We called our friends down the street. We made birthday hats. We gave the twins an extra nap so they would be on their best behavior. And then, we got to work making cupcakes, because what is a birthday party without cupcakes!
It didn’t imagine the whole neighborhood would show up. But everyone did. And everyone had fun! And to this day, it is still one of the best parties I’ve ever been to!