Posts tagged imagination

The War is On (Part 1)

Christmas lights on Aleksanterinkatu.
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Ah, Christmas. Time for much food, much drink and way too much stuff. It’s no wonder January is a major downer given that the fuel that has fed the fires of the “Christmas Spirit” has run out. It’s a hangover, really. For this reason many people spend the pre-Christmas time wracking their brains for something new and exciting that will make the holiday “more meaningful this year.”

I’m one of those people. I love the decadence of Christmas; the real-butter baking, the regal decorations, the festive meals, the pretty dresses, the majestic music of the season (this does not include Marshmellow World or Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer.) Christmas is the one time of year when my heart is moved to worship at surprising times when an actual Christmas song floats over the airwaves of a radio station that ordinarily plays hollow and meaningless drivel. Dark neighbourhoods suddenly seem more inviting as people dress up their homes with lights and bows. And yet each year I spend time thinking about concrete ways to allow the truth of my Saviour’s coming to earth penetrate deeper and bring about actual change that will last past December 31st.

Years ago I researched different Christmas traditions for a stage play I was writing and came across an interesting custom from the Coptic tradition. In this tradition people fast during the advent season as they prepare for our Saviour’s birth. So this year our family is doing a fast of sorts: a television fast.

It happened more by chance than by plan. Those of you familiar with my writing know of my aversion to all things media, especially where my children are concerned. It just so happened that the latest development in the saga (chronicled in my last post) happened during November, so Oliver and I decided to pull the plug on the children’s consumption of media during advent. To make things fair, we felt that we needed to lead by example (though the children don’t ever see us watching television during waking hours anyway). And so here we are, putting away the remote for a few weeks as we prepare our hearts for Christmas.

baking sugar cookies

This means, of course, that Mommy and Daddy need to be more intentional about planning things for their children to do. This week we have been baking Christmas cookies, which is a real hit. Nobody complains about wanting to watch TV given this alternative. Since the project has several steps and we’re doing this after school, we’ve had several days of fun. I had forgotten how fun it was to bake and decorate cookies, although that could be because in recent years the children were less of a help and more of a nuisance when baking. This year it’s great fun. Tonight we’re thinking of putting up the tree.

We will make an exception for family movie nights featuring classics like Rudolph and the Little Drummer Boy. Perhaps Oli and I will even take in a Christmas classic after the kids are in bed one night. But as a general rule we have decided to devote the advent time to things that families would have done generations ago to prepare for the season. There is so much to do to get ready for Christmas, and this year it won’t all be up to Mom.

Horsey and DouglasThe television has been off since Monday and we’ve already seen signs of the boys’ imaginations returning. On Wednesday morning Teddy and Sammy walked out of their rooms with their stuffies, Dougles (a dog) and Horsey (a horse).

“Only seven more days until Douglas’ birthday,” Teddy announced. It’s written on the calendar folks: November 30. Teddy has already asked whether we can have a party complete with a cake. I’m thinking of humouring him. It will be the first time I’ve thrown a party for a stuffed animal, but it is another idea to substitute TV time.

At this point Sammy chimed in to tell me about Horsey’s birthday. “Horsey’s birthday isn’t for a long time,” he said.

“Yeah,” Teddy added. “It’s still a long, long time away. It’s in a whole year.” Apparently the horse’s birthday was on November 10th. How could I have missed it? I’m sure Douglas won’t mind sharing a slice of cake with Horsey.

“Before he turns 1, Douglas has to have his eyes checked,” Teddy informed me next. “He’s still a puppy so his eyes are just opening. He has to have them checked to make sure they’re opening properly.” He went on to tell me that the one thing Douglas didn’t like in his life was when Teddy massaged him on the tummy (which was accompanied by a demonstration) and that if he wasn’t careful Douglas would attack him as a result.

“And the other day,” Sammy added, always needing to be a part of the conversation, “Horsey was going for a walk and tripped off a stump and bonked herself in the eye.” Sammy went on to scratch Douglas behind his ears, just like a real pet.

While I am loving the return to imagination, I’m a little concerned about the subject matter. I can handle a stuffed dog on my couch, but what happens when the children ask for a real one? If we end up with a real dog because we insisted on the children using their imaginations instead of watching television I just may have to bend my principles in the future.

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Those Fabulous Fours

Panthera tigris sumatran subspecies.

Image via Wikipedia

I’ve decided that the only thing more fun than having a four-year-old is having two four-year-olds. No, we’re not adopting. I’ve started looking after my friend’s four-year-old twice a week, which is proving to be more of a nice break for me than extra work.

This morning Sammy’s friend arrived in tears, not wanting to say good-bye to his mommy. How do you deal with a child overcome by this type of temporary grief? You tell the boys that you were planning a trip to the park, of course, even if your original plan was to get caught up on laundry and dishes.

The playgrounds near our house are situated on some lovely green spaces complete with a creek, trees, and rolling lawns. It is quite possibly some of the loveliest real estate in the city, and our neighbourhood association works hard to keep it that way. When we moved to our little dated bungalow five years ago with only a 2-year-old, we knew that one day these green spaces would provide hours of little-kid fun for our growing family. Five years later the kids’ wild imaginations are ready for input (and output), and a stroll to the playground is never just a stroll to the playground – especially not if you’re four years old.

Today the two four-year-olds veered off the path and headed down the grassy hill toward the creek bed where they were deep in conversation about tigers when I caught up with them. Each standing about 3½ feet tall, the boys were intently looking into each other’s wide eyes talking about tigers and their young, and that they would come to drink at a watering hole just like this one. There’s nothing like a like-minded person to fan the flame of one’s own imagination, and it was evident the boys were getting a bit nervous about he prospect of tigers being in the area. Trying to diffuse the situation with some common sense wisdom, Sammy’s friend put his little hand on Sammy’s shoulder and said reassuringly, “you know, tigers eat meat. We’re persons.”

After a short pause Sammy replied, “but persons are meat.”

With that it was time to leave the watering hole and check out an overgrown grove of trees nearby – a tiger’s lair, no doubt. After a bit of exploration one of the boys got nervous and wanted to be on his way again. The prospect of coming head-to-head with a full-sized Bengal was just too much for him.

At the playground they discovered a large hole in the mulch in front of the playground equipment. “A dog digged this,” Sammy proclaimed. Later on our way home the boys discovered another large hole in the grass. Holes like this one call for closer inspection, of course. I asked them what they thought made this hole. “A gopher,” replied Sammy’s friend, as though it was the most logical thing in the world.

Sammy found the next hole: a large depression in the grass. “A HOLE!” he cried at the top of his lungs. The sound of the alarm quickly brought back his friend who had gone ahead. What on earth was this? Both boys crouched down and inspected the area. “A pipe,” remarked Sam’s friend, who saw the protruding end of a drainage pipe. Fascinating. What was even more fascinating was that the pipe ran under the path and came out again on the other side! The boys quickly figured it out that they could each peek through one end and see each other through the pipe!

I spent most of my time just watching this morning. There’s a lot to be learned by watching four-year-olds. I realized that discovery doesn’t happen when I’m in a rush with my kids. Discovery, curiousity and imagination take time to unfold. It’s also a good idea to just let kids do their own thing once in a while, instead of planning all their activities for them. Kids are perfectly able to play without mom’s interference.

I also felt just a tinge of sadness knowing that this innocent exploration and imagining will end one day, and will most likely be replaced by the less colourful world of video and computer games, texting, and the mall. And suddenly I understand the frequent comments and mournful smiles of people who “miss this stage.” As tempting as it sometimes is to wish for older, more reasonable and independent children, I’ve renewed my resolve again to cherish the precious pre-school years while they’re here.

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Theatre in the Garden

I have been using dracaena spikes in my pots for several years now, but yesterday was the first time I considered that they could become characters in a narrative. It makes perfect sense – at least to a four-year-old and his vivid imagination.

Our children have a fantastic imagination which we work hard at preserving by limiting the amount of time they spend in front of screens. They don’t always understand the reason for our limits, but mostly they just enjoy making up stories where cars have parties in houses or plastic bugs ride shotgun in big cars. At age 4, Sammy is just now getting to an age where his imagination is taking off, making him a great playmate for 6-year-old Teddy. Sammy can make a game or story out of pretty much anything – including dracaena spikes.

Yesterday I overheard him talking “to himself” on the front porch. Curious, I poked my head around the corner to see what he was up to. I should mention that Sammy has a fascination with the flower bed at the front of the house, probably because up until recently, he was not allowed to be there without direct supervision. Last summer he would slip away undetected and we would find him in the front flower bed “harvesting” hosta leaves like he had seen me do with my lettuce. The front bed became off-limits until this summer.

So there he stood yesterday with a spike in each hand, acting out the story of David and Goliath. One spike would say, “WHO WILL FIGHT ME?!?” in a really big voice, to which the other would answer confidently, “I will!” The first spike would be hit with a stone from the second spike’s sling, and the timeless story would conclude by the first spike saying, “pthblt” and falling over, dead.

Forget flannel boards in Sunday School or smart boards in school. The only visual aid kids really need for learning are plants!

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Living on the Wild Side

“Sammy, do you love your little brother?” I asked Sammy after reading a touchy-feely book about a big brother welcoming his little sister into the family.
“Not really,” Sammy answered after a few moments’ thought.

“Would you have been happier with a sister?” I asked, curious.

“No,” he mused. “That would be a She,” he concluded, as though that were explanation enough.

“And you don’t like She’s?” I prodded.

“No.” A three-year-old’s favourite word.

“But you just played with some girls this morning. Wasn’t that fun?”

“No. They’re only fun at their house.”

“You mean when you play with them at their house, or when they play with other girls at their house?” I asked.

“When they play at their house with other girls,” Sammy answered without any hesitation.

When I consider the daughters of my friends, I have to wonder whether our boys’ disinterest in the gentler sex is actually to their benefit. I have an inkling that the mothers of those sweet little princesses would have their reservations about our sons’ most recent imaginative play: pretending to be top carnivores, or worse, scavengers.

Their fascination with the intricacies of the food chain stems from their love of non-fiction books (Teddy just received the “Student of the Month” award for his independent animal research at school) and Sammy’s favourite animal show, “Zaboomafoo.” They are also enamoured with dinosaurs and their classification as herbivores, carnivores, or omnivores. (As it turns out, there are even “insectivores”. Who knew?)

A few weeks ago they were playing with play-dough. I had recently made a big batch of brightly-coloured blue play-dough to inspire our boys to sculpt whatever they could dream up: cinnamon buns, bunnies, eggs, stamps of flowers…the opportunities are endless with play-dough. As it turns out though, I obviously still think like a girl, because what my boys ended up using the big lump of dough for was to represent a big hunk of carrion (a dead animal, for those of you who don’t know) which was being eaten by a plastic hippo and a plastic fish (the two animals they have in their play-dough collection). At one point the fish was “stuck” in the heap of deceased animal flesh, calling out to the hippo to “come and save me! I’m stuck! Start eating right here!” Yum.

One of the most common questions from the boys for a while was, “is _____ meat?” (fill in the blank with an animal name.) Now they will make statements about animals being “meat”. They discuss which animal is meat for which other animal, and even wonder whether we humans are meat. I’m still not sure how to field that one. Grizzlies are of particular concern to them, and they often want to know how far away we live from the bears.

Sammy, who has a particular fascination with animals, role-plays animal personas all the time. When he is alone he is often a peace-loving species, high-lighting the animal’s qualities by describing it as an animal that “is quiet” or “is a good listener.” When Teddy gets home from school though, be prepared for some serious stalking of prey, growling, and pouncing. The two of them set to attacking toy horses or pillows, taking them down with their “sharp claws,” and chasing away the competing carnivore who would threaten to steal their kill. I’ll leave it to your imagination as to which boy secures the most kill and which one is chased away most often.

Some people may consider the boys’ pastime reflective of a morbid fascination with death. I disagree: Oliver and I feel like we’re watching a nature flick in which the young animals learn to hunt and fight at a young age by wrangling with their fellow yearlings. Our gentler Sammy is receiving an education in being more assertive in the face of a very dominant alpha male, which will no doubt stand him in good stead as he begins kindergarten next year. We have seen that boys tend to gravitate towards games that involve hunting or killing, and I confess to preferring this game over the imaginary killing of people using light-sabers or worse. If nothing else, it has certainly reinforced the timeless truth once again that kids will act out what they see, read, and hear!

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