Thursday, May 1, 2014

Find a Kid and Keep Him Close

I don't know what sort of Facebook-user you are (if you use Facebook), but I am of the variety of users who rarely follow links to the numerous articles their friends share. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations following invariably the same object led me several times to the Matt Walsh Blog, I began to realize that I actually like much of what this guy has to say. Yesterday was one of those times when I followed a link and was ready to cheer by the end. The title of the post was: Here are 13 things for little kids to worry about instead of college and test preparation. In the post, Matt writes an open letter to one first-grader named Peter, whose love for arts, crafts, and creativity has been sapped by the public school system (specifically the early focus on college prep).

In my new role as nanny to Lila and Sophy, I have been testing the waters as to how far their imaginations go. Going into the position, Sharon told me that they were creative and imaginative children and that they loved to pretend. This was obviously a boon for me--I can't keep uncreative, unimaginative children busy. It just does not work. They don't like me and I don't particularly like them. The first couple of work weeks, I tried their limits and held back a little from the full onslaught of Rachelness they would soon come to know. Ever so slowly, I seeped it in and watched how they reacted to invitations to imagine, create, and pretend. Every challenge I gave, they gobbled up. I liked these girls. I stuck to reading books in different accents, to dancing like different sea-animals, to talking about "unzipping" the kiwis' furry jackets so we could eat them. I felt like we were all holding back a little, getting used to one another, pushing a couple boundaries, seeing just how far the other would go. I didn't want to, y'know, scare them with my whimsical nature.

This week, I branched out into the full me and they branched out into the full them. I lectured a pineapple in a French accent while slicing off its skin. I told Lila not to snip off her nose with her scissors and she responded with a factoid from our butterfly reading this morning:
"Yeah, cuz then I'd have to grow antennae to smell things!"
We have instituted certain traditions, the girls and I. Sophy hangs onto my shirt or pockets as I go down the hall to put her to bed, and I pretend (thrice) to be surprised that I have a tail. (It's Lila's turn on the way back down the hall.) I speak in a man's tone of voice while eating lunch, per Sophy's request. We all discuss which animal we'll be eating like during a particular meal or snack, and discuss the merits of Shark-Chompies vs. Mouse-Nibbles. I stand in front of their swings and introduce myself as Roberta (but they may call me Bobbie), and then mishear their names as "Lola" and "Trophy" and I'm ever so glad to meet them.  I have chopped up conversations on the swings, speaking only when their swings are up close and halting conversation as they drop back the other direction. I tell them "Luke & Liza" stories and refuse to tell more till they've told me a story of their own. We boast about eating cookies as large as their rather-large house and we walk like octopusses to find our snacks.

We jive. It's great.

But today was the real test. I had told three stories already today, and Lila's sapphire-blue eyes (crazy gorgeous) were burning as they do when her brain is going like a motorboat in the background. Sophy's belly laugh and Lila's burning eyes are the way to gauge how well you've caught their attention. I was out of stories temporarily and decided to Shanghai their imaginations:

"My story is broken," I told them, and pointed to the inside of my elbow.
Lila's eyes burned blue. "What?"
"Right here. I don't know what happened but I need you to fix it."
She looked at me a moment and Sophy came up and offered "sugars" (a kiss) to make it feel better.
"What do you need for it to feel better?" Lila asked. She is always one for getting straight to a point.
"Rabbit ears," I said. "I see some under that tree."
Lila dipped behind a magnolia and popped out again. "I see leaves."
"Perfect!" I stuck the two brown magnolia leaves in my ponytail and looked pleased with myself. "Rabbit ears. And now I'm in need of a bird-feather."
Lila stared me down. "Where do I get that?"
"Look around."
She gave me an intense gaze and I saw that little mind scrabbling for ideas. A moment among the bushes, and she came galloping up with a tulip leaf shaped like a feather. "Let me strip it down," she said, and made it look more like a feather than ever.
I put this in the crack of my arm. Sophy gave me a buttercup which I applied likewise. "And now I need a bowl of imagination," I said.
This, I expected to stump her. It didn't. She grabbed a clay plate and filled it with fistfuls of clover which she then deposited on my lap. I pretended to eat it.
"And now some fairy-dust, and I should be all settled."
By now, Lila was quite in the spirit of the game. She dumped the clover and filled the plate with mulch which I proceeded to sprinkle over the ground while she looked on curiously.
"Why, it's all better!" I marveled, and removed the leaf. "And green!"
She snapped blue fire at me and laughed and laughed. Needless to say, she got her fourth story.

I suppose there isn't much point to this post except to commend the imaginations of children. They're beautiful things, they're precious things, and they work so well. Spend some time with a kid tomorrow. It's absolutely wonderful.


Esther Brooksmith (wisdomcreates) said...


Kelsey Carnes said...

Have you ever read Charles Dickens's Hard Times? That's what the school described in the article made me think of... Mr. Gradgrind's school of Fact, where all the fun and all the imagination was taken out of learning in favor of stuffing as much pure, useful Fact down the throats of the poor children as possible. I don't necessarily think all schools today are like that, but some certainly are. I wanted very much to applaud Mr. Walsh at the end of that post; too bad he couldn't hear me if I had. :) Thanks for posting!

Jack said...

I love little kid's imaginations. I like to sit and talk to them and make up stories.

Riley Pleasants said...

I often say "I don't like children." It's not entirely true (I like my siblings and young relatives....) I think it mostly applies the the ones throwing fits and the parents that don't discipline. Which basically means I don't like bad parents.
Your post made me think about kids. And then it inspired me to make an effort to like children more. I love imagination and pretend and playing in the dirt, so why can't I relate to kids?
Thank you for the call to arms:)