Monday, July 29, 2013

Captured By the Imagination

As a kid I always had an overactive imagination. I loved dressing up, I would play games on my own that were often inspired by movies and television shows I had seen, and I had many conversations with people who were very real to me but could not be seen by the naked eye. I remember making up songs and picking flowers/weeds out of the grass in our Detroit backyard after watching Rumpelstiltskin with my family. For awhile my imaginary friends were Michael, John, and Wendy after watching Peter Pan. For years I was scared of our basement because my parents thought it was a brilliant idea to take their 3-year-old to a re-release of Snow White (sorry, but the Wicked Queen is SCARY). And many of my games for several years were inspired by my love for She-Ra.

It should be no surprise that my little girl, my little clone, operates much the same way, but her adult mother still finds herself confused, amused, flustered, and occasionally frustrated by the imagination that occupies my daughter's world. It's not that I've forgotten what it's like to have an imagination. I just mentioned remembering how much my imagination drove my childhood. It's just that we frequently find it impossible to break into our daughter's world. Once she's in the zone and the imagination has taken over, we have to move mountains to get her back into the real world. And where does this imagination take her (and sometimes us)?

  • When our daughter was two we let her watch Aladdin for the first time. Over the course of a couple weeks she watched it several times in a row and then didn't watch it for months, but her imagination was captured. Soon her imaginary friends became Aladdin, Jasmine, Genie, and occasionally Jafar (which we could never figure out). To her they were real, and we often had to go out of our way to make adjustments to plans, seating arrangements, and how we cleaned so as to not disturb the Aladdin universe. For awhile she carried these imaginary friends around the house and into public in plastic containers (usually an empty margarine container) because that was their home. She would lay blankets all over the floors of our bedroom and hers so that Aladdin, Jasmine, Genie, and Jafar all had their own beds to sleep on. She even worked to find them all their own pillows. We had to explain her obsession with her imaginary friends to caretakers so they would play along and not shatter her world. And two years later we are still dealing with these imaginary friends. She has been married to Aladdin and now Aladdin and Jasmine as her children. We had a near meltdown this weekend while we were camping because our daughter wanted us to pull out the couch in the camper so Aladdin had a place to sleep. Yes she was tired and yes we might have been indulging her, but it was easier to make up a couch for an imaginary friend than to fight her desire to go to sleep over something so small. Usually we are amused by these friends and our daughter's obsession with them. The occasional frustration with slight inconveniences, such as having to pull out a couch for no reason, are worth knowing that our daughter is genuinely happy with these "friends" who have evolved into her "children" as she gets older.
  • Her clothes determine what she is and what world she occupies. She loves to dress up and has worn her two princess dresses thin. We finally had to replace her purple princess dress from Halloween 2010 with a much bigger blue dress for Halloween 2012 so that she could continue to dress up as a princess. Yesterday she pretended she was Cinderella, telling me I had to be the mean step-mother and then quickly retreating to her imaginary world. We had slight drama trying to find a pair of dress shoes that fit her feet so she could have glass slippers and she finally settled for her white summer sandals. She happily played and ran ahead in her poofy dress while we walked our dog together yesterday evening. She ran in the grass, dress flouncing behind her, and was as happy as could be.
  • She is a mother with many children and those children have beds all over the house. We don't dare move those beds for fear that we may disturbed the delicate balance that is her world. That might explain why we still haven't moved the two babies that have been sleeping on the rocking chair ottoman in our bedroom for the last couple weeks. Last night we moved one of her babies from their play table so that we could have a family pizza party in the family room and experienced a near meltdown from our tired little camper. This would be an example of her imagination causing frustration, but it is really hard to be angry with a little girl who is just desperately trying to be a good mother to her many babies.
  • Even before we started camping together as a family she was camping inside and dragging her brother in to participate in the fun. Toys, books, blankets, and pillows have been moved between bedrooms many times this summer, and keeping their rooms remotely clean seems like a lost cause. They have so much fun together, giggling and playing and only occasionally fighting when they are lost together in their camping world. We have discovered that they are much the same when we are real camping. Of course she is still lost in her world. Just last week I had to explain to my daughter that she couldn't leave her brother locked in his room because he was frighted and couldn't get out. In her head he was in a "cave" protected from being attacked by an invisible monster. It caused momentary frustration as I tried to bring her out of "Lydia Land" and back into the land of the living. Adding the frustration was the many Cheerios (or "marshmallows") that littered her brother's floor. I continue to step on these "marshmallows" that were left in the initial clean-up.

I love my daughter and I love that she has such a vivid imagination, but she really is captured by the worlds she creates. So much so that sometimes we have to get down on her level and look her in the eye to bring her back to earth. But that's ok. I would rather she have a vivid imagination than no imagination at all.

People bemoan the loss of childhood and imagination and I have to admit that I dread our daughter growing up too soon. Stores that carry little girls clothing that is barely appropriate for my high school students, movies that celebrate teenage sexuality and dating at younger and younger ages, an Internet that exposes children to things that I didn't know anything about until I was well into high school or later: They all seem intent on making my job as a parent harder. But then I look at my imaginative little girl and I am thankful. For now her world is her world, often inspired by what she sees but carried off by her own thoughts, desires, and experiences. Does it sometimes complicate my life? Yes, but it also makes me laugh, gives me something to post on Facebook, and melts my heart. It gives me hope that the imagination is not lost and that childhood is not a lost cause. If we take away the TV for a little bit and just let them play, let them be, their imaginations will take flight. And I am also aware that it is individualistic. While our son is often carried off with his older sister's games, he is his own little person and his world of cars, books, and balls is not as driven by the imagination as it is by constant activity. It's just one more thing that highlights the differences between our two children, but that's ok. For now we will continue to be delighted, amazed, and occasionally disturbed by where our daughter takes us next.

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