I don’t remember exactly how old I was when my imagination abruptly abandoned me, but I remember it being somewhere in the mysterious land of Middle School (though I was apparently lucky enough to hold onto it for so long).
B.L. (Before Loss), I would have trouble getting to sleep, and to pass the time I found imagining myself as the protagonist in some popular or original plot to save the world was much preferable to counting sheep. I would pretend to be a mermaid in the swimming pool. I would spearhead rousing imaginary adventure games on the playground with my fellow students. From the top of the jungle gym I would hoist my make-believe pirate sword and holler, “Take no prisoners!”
A.L. (After Loss), I would attempt to recreate the pseudo-dreamworlds that had made it so easy for me to fall asleep, but I just couldn’t come up with scenarios I was happy with and ended up slipping into sleep silently and dream-less. Pretending to be a mermaid felt childish and uncomfortable. I lost my imaginary sword somewhere under the mounting piles of textbooks and overdue homework.
This was a gradual decline into my bland teen years. Sure, I was creative; I excelled in the arts. I took three foreign languages in my high school years, on top of band, chorus, and orchestra. I passed all subjects with flying colors (except for my art class out of pure spite, which is another story). I had the ability to create, yes, but all imagination was gone. There was no wonder or exploration or “What if…?” It was a watered-down version of my previous imaginary magnificence.
There were probably plenty of other emotional catalysts for the destruction of my imagination, and I could probably spend hours outlining them all, but I think the main problem – the Bruté – was my intense desire to grow up.
Every kid in the history of ever has probably expressed the desire to be an adult, like, NOW, at least once in their childhood. Once I’d felt I’d grown up enough, though, I looked back at my childhood and lamented the loss of my imagination. I wondered if that was normal for everyone, or if it was just some weight I’d hastily (and mistakenly) discarded to make the ascent to adulthood quicker.
It definitely made babysitting awkward. A three-year-old could ball up some yarn and stick a popsicle stick through it, dip it in glitter, and suddenly they have a roaring torch with which to explore “caves” and “tunnels”, which were often just made of couch cushions and blankets. I couldn’t see the caves; I only saw the couch.
“Look, Mags! It’s a flying dinosaur!”
“….You just threw it through the air, though.”
“No, no! It’s a flying T-rex, see?!”
I probably crushed a few kids’ dreams in situations like that. It’s not that I refused to see, I just couldn’t see no matter how hard I tried. Tyrannosaurus couldn’t fly.
During the months I was pregnant and over-worrying about the future like most parents, I wondered extensively how I was going to kindle my daughter’s imagination when I had none of my own. Could I keep her creative and full of wonder without actually imagining things for her?
In the first year of her life, it was rather easy. Newborns and infants are pretty freakin’ easy to entertain; they like bright or contrasting colors, pretty music, and tickles. And, oh, man, do they love new things. Every time I saw something I didn’t think she’d gotten to explore before, I handed it to her. I talked to her. I described it to her. And when her little chubby cheeks squeeze out a giant grin just for me, I felt something grow in me.
It was impossible to not be inspired by her sense of wonder. Everything was new to her! Things I’d taken for granted for years, like the feel of dew-wet grass on bare feet, or the sound of crickets at dusk, or the tingly cold of a hunk of snow, these things all caused her to laugh and clap.
So when she began toddling (and immediately running), and she lost interest in her rattles and push-toys and started grabbing for the Little People toys and stuffed animals, I automatically handed them over, and I watched.
She put toy cars in the barn where the toy cows were supposed to go. She put dolls in drawers where her clothes were supposed to go. She put socks on her hands instead of gloves, and pants on her head instead of a hat. And the whole time, she giggled and squealed and stomped her little feet.
Today, she’s just over twenty months, and her vocabulary is exploding. It seems to me that she knows a ridiculous amount of words. She’s finally beginning to use sentences.
“Mama, ‘ook! ‘Ook, Mama! Horse is fly!” she cries cheerfully as lifts her toy horse and pretends it’s flying through the air. I laugh and clap with her.
Because of her, I’ve been able to rekindle my childhood imagination. She’s taught me how to be a little kid again just as much as I’ve taught her about the world.
Horses can totally fly.