The imaginations of kids today is becoming undone. I remember when I was a kid it was okay to daydream. It was fine to color pictures of trees blue. Today? Parents are more concerned about entering their kids into any and all arenas of structure instead of allowing them time to be kids. Parents have placed way too much emphasis of importance of being “involved”(as well as themselves being overtly “involved”). They want to make sure their kids are coloring inside the lines. Parents are buying Rosetta Stones for Christmas because Dr. Phil told them toddlers learn a foreign language better than the rest of us. Parents have scripted their children’s lives with cheerleading, football, soccer, baseball, girl scouts, boy scouts, basket weaving, and play dates(No longer can playing be spontaneous? It must be done by appointment?). The screenplay to their kids lives is now to the point where parents might as well just hand their kids a BlackBerry to keep their schedules in order. Parents have succeeded in suppressing the natural curiosity and frenetic energy kids exude by creating walls of structure around them because a book they bought on Oprah’s book of the month club suggested it.
While I do not completely discount the importance of having some structure with our kids, I make a point to allow them time to be kids. I want them wandering around aimlessly. I want them to go off the cuff. I love the interaction I can get from playing with my girls, but sometimes I stand in awe at their ability to rationalize, create, and just play. The other weekend it was just me and my little ladies(Mommy was away). Hannah and Emma are as different as two kids sharing DNA strands could be. My Hannah is quiet, introspective(even for a 6 year old), friendly, imaginative and timid. My Emma? As close to a Viking as a three year old can get without wearing animal pelts. Active, energetic, attention span of a common housefly.
I had decided on an afternoon in the basement for them(before you say it, the basement’s finished). Over the span of their short lives, my two precious little girls have amassed a collection of toys that would put an unopened tomb in the Valley of the Kings to shame so at their insistence on doing something I recommended the basement. Mumbles and grumbles ensued(I was told by Hannah there is nothing down there for them to play with. My wife has the same problem with nothing to wear in her walk in closet) I reassure them I’ll be joining them and surely there is something for us to do and so we head down. During the week their days come and go at a breakneck pace and so it’s nice, when you have the opportunity, to just stay in and play.
Along with the mounds of toys in the basement, I had left an empty cardboard box from a lamp down there(I’m sure I told my wife I would be getting rid of this before today). As if they had careers as product inspectors, they both starting looking over the corrugated box. The three year old picked it up as her older sister checked the bottom. They both sat in it(Thank god they both fit I did not need that argument). They rubbed their hands over the sides. Hannah was explaining something to her sister in children’s gibberish that vaguely sounded like Klingon to me. It was amazing to be apart of this entire scene. My daughter’s had completely forgotten about their father and had been entranced by an empty cardboard box. I felt like Dian Fossey watching gorillas in the mountains of Africa. In this case the gorillas were my kids…which as it happens, is not far from the truth at all.
After a little bit they acknowledge my existence. “Daddy. Can we have markers, and crayons, and paint?”(The 6 year old has become the duo’s spokeswoman.) I nicely explain to them they can have the markers and crayons but we will be skipping the paint. Number one: The box isn’t the best medium for the paints they have and Number two: I have seen Emma eat dinner. If she does to paint what she is capable of doing with mashed potatoes and gravy well then no paint today. They agree to the terms(only minor fussing) and within a second of grabbing the markers and crayons, they have forgotten me again and are entrenched in their cardboard box.
I feign watching television. Showing too much interest could either scare them off or put me into the action and I want to see what sorts of ideas and creations they can come up with when an adult isn’t lurking over their shoulders telling them trees aren’t supposed to be blue.
Today I dared to ignore Oprah and let those girls run wild. Their boundless imaginations combined with their flair for the dramatic and the box has been transformed into their Sistine Chapel. I get an occasional acknowledgement to access their progress(which almost brings a tear to my eye. My girls still care what I have to say. I can only dream they do when they start dating too). They are completely engrossed. Unaware of the stresses life. Unburdened with a cynical society. They laugh with one another. They share(remarkably). They revel at their blue trees.
Thoroughly proud of the work they have completed(I would say it teetered on early Dadaism) my girls jumped into the box. I continued to watch. They flew a plane. I watched. They drove it. I watched. They sat in it with their stuffed animals. I watched some more. I must have watched them for almost an hour play with a cardboard box(which is like a Hollywood marriage lasting longer than 3 years. A lifetime.). No rules. No structure.
Sometimes we need to let our kids be kids. To jump on their beds. To chase the family pet around the house. To keep their heads in their hands and stare blankly out a window. We need to back off and let them discover whatever it is they are looking for, for themselves. We can be so consuming with our kids’ lives by the time they hit their teens they are going to be as jaded, cynical, and depressed as most of us are(and looking to upgrade to a touch screen BlackBerry). Sometimes? Sometimes kids just need a cardboard box and some blue crayons for the trees.
- Gentlemen, you will permit me to put on my spectacles, for, I have grown not only gray, but almost blind in the service of my country (and bald...and cranky...and out of shape...in the service of being a parent) - George Washington
Seek and Ye Might Just Find