The power of play and imagination

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recorder concert, while we wait

Earlier this week, I walked the two little kids partway to school, the uphill part.

The tall snowbanks make the sidewalk narrow, so it’s hard to walk three abreast, which is what they want to do, each holding one of my hands. CJ tends to fall behind. He was hanging onto my hand, walking behind me, and I felt like I was pulling him along.

So I told them a story that I think is at least partially accurate. I’ll have to ask my dad, because it’s really his story. I remember him telling it to me when I was little. I loved horses and I loved stories about horses. In my memory of this story, Dad was living in Puerto Rico. He wasn’t very old, perhaps 7 or 8, and he had a little pony. Was the pony called Star? I could be making that up. I could be making all of this up, which is why I don’t trust myself to write a memoir. In the story, as I told it to my kids, my dad was riding his pony up a steep hill, and it got steeper and steeper as they got close to the top, so he got off and held onto the pony’s tail, and the pony pulled him up the rest of the way.

I told CJ that I felt like my dad’s little pony, pulling him up the hill.

Telling the story made our walk so much easier, not just for the kids, but for me too. It reminded me of my own power, as the adult in the situation, to change the tenor of an experience by introducing a creative element, such as a story.

When the older kids were little, we used to pretend things all the time when we were walking places–and we walked a lot of places, and we walked really slowly. So it took patience, and in all honesty, I am not a patient person by nature. It could have been really boring. But instead, we were in the arctic or the desert, we were explorers, the cars were polar bears, the streets were rivers of ice, we were going up mountains, we were looking for our home, it was really cold, or really hot. The story would expand, mostly just describing what we were doing; sometimes we were hiding or hurrying from an imaginary threat. It turned our walks to the library or school or on errands into little adventures. We had to be doing these things, and yet we were enjoying doing them—the errands became bigger than what they appeared to be, on the surface. It’s something I’ve tried to pass along to my kids, to give them the tools to recognize and experiment with creative solutions to momentary problems: creative ways to overcome boredom, to soothe the self, to interact with others. (Whether it’s worked, I don’t know; my kids nevertheless seem to like best to self-soothe and fight boredom with a variety of glowing screens ….)

But this little uphill climb got me thinking about the power of a story. And the power of a storyteller. It’s also the power of play and imagination, two things I get to tap into regularly in my writing life as well as in my parenting life. I recognize that it’s a luxury–that play is a luxury and imagination is a luxury–because you have to have the patience and energy to locate and use your creative self. You have to know it’s there, in the first place. You have to trust yourself. But it’s a luxury anyone can afford, which is the only kind of luxury that really interests me, access to which I would love to somehow spread out into the world.

xo, Carrie

State of mind, state of being
Sitting in stillness amidst the whirl

6 Comments

  1. Wow. This post is thought-provoking and lovely. It sounds like you have a wonderful family and take your job as a mother extremely serious.
    Imparting imagination into a child’s life is the best thing any parent could do.

    Reply
    • Thanks, Kerry. I’m glad you enjoyed the post.

      Reply
  2. When both my kids were wee, I took them in our car to a park way across town. The car wouldn’t start after the swings and slides had been exhausted and, in a time long long ago before cell phones, we were faced with a very long walk home. The kids wanted picking up and I knew that, even making them take turns, I would have difficulty carrying them all that way. I told them a somewhat long and drawn out version of The Flying Head legend, promising to pick them up when the story finished – kind of my own Arabian Nights type adventure. The head was described in infinitesimal detail, with the kids adding features of their own. We made it in the end, both kids on foot the entire way. For months after, they asked for this story at bed time, but it was never quite as fleshed out as the desperation of that long walk had me make it that day. As a creative endeavor, I was amazed at how the story could be so elastic when the conditions warranted it. As with your experience Carrie, I hope my kids took from it some sort of coping skill along with their distraction from the long haul hiking!

    Reply
    • I love your story, Margaret! It brought a huge grin to my face. Thank you for sharing.

      Reply
  3. This so reminds me of our own storytelling-to-cope-and-thrive adventures. One of the questions I have as my kids move toward adulthood is how to find that playfulness in other parts of my life. It’s so so suited to life with children but that stage passes. I am very open to ideas. (and I do get to play with words, and also with my teens.)

    Reply
    • I wonder, too, Susan. When I play music, I often feel playful, especially when improvising. I find a lightness and playfulness when I exercise, often, too; and I miss playing soccer because of how fun it was to play a sport with other people. That’s what comes to mind off the top of my head, but I would love hear other ideas …

      Reply

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