These kids can amuse themselves with four grains of sand and stick for hours. They’ll use all their Legos, add a few pieces from the Monopoly game and some selected dishes and utensils from the kitchen to create an alternate universe under the dining room table.
The table, by the way, is most likely decorated on the underside in their best impression of Michelangelo’s work on the Sistine Chapel, because they know drawing on the walls is forbidden.
Sure, it leads to a somewhat (okay, VERY) jumbled household because the pieces of everything are always mixed together, but as a parent you sit back and think, “This imagination thing isn’t so bad.”
But there’s a flip side.
There’s not simply a monster under the bed or in the closet — there’s a wormhole to an alternate dimension and Darth Vader will appear any second demanding they join the Dark Side or die.
The storybook about dinosaurs you read them three weeks ago suddenly terrifies them as they SWEAR a Tyrannosaurus Rex was looking in their bedroom window just a second before you came in and turned on the light.
As a parent during those long nights, especially if you have a child who is younger still and wakes at three- or four-hour intervals anyway, you think, “This imagination thing has GOT to get under control.”
And slowly, without you realizing what’s happening, their imagination seems to erode. You wake up one day and realize you haven’t had to look for the soup ladle in the Lego box for quite some time.
Before you get too wrapped up in prematurely mourning a lost childhood, you also realize you haven’t had to convince anyone there’s not a dinosaur outside their window at 3 a.m. That’s a plus.
Recently, I had a chance to realize imagination doesn’t erode — rather, it seems to go dormant.
This was proven to me by a chance phone call from my son. The kids were home alone for a brief stretch earlier in the week.
“Mom?? Are you in the driveway??”
“Um, no. Why?”
“There’s a car in the driveway! If you’re not in the driveway, who’s out there?!?”
Now I’m worried. I ask if they can see somebody in the car.
“No, but there’s a car out there and it looks like yours!”
“Um, buddy? My car IS in the driveway. Are there two cars?”
“No, just one … OH. Oh. Never mind.”
The wind blew, they thought the sound was a car pulling in the driveway and imaginations kicked into overdrive when I didn’t come in the house.
Proof positive, imagination is alive and well.
They may not be spreading Legos across the dining room floor, but there are times when they still live in a world entirely apart.
And there are still times when they scare themselves to bits over nothing.
Even if they keep waking me in the middle of the night well into their teen years over nonexistent disasters lurking, I hope they don’t lose the magic imagination provides them.