Both my children had friends over to play today. Not at the same time, unfortunately — things go so much more smoothly when they each have a friend to play with, but time-wise that didn’t work out, so we had awhile when Christopher’s friend was over and then another point later in the day when Emma’s friend was over.
When I watch my children playing with friends they both, especially Christopher, remind me so much of myself it makes me both smile and cringe. I remember so vividly the experience of being a child with an overactive imagination, trying to urge others to share my imaginary world. (It was worse for me because I was an only child; at least my overly imaginative children can do pretend play with each other, when they’re not fighting over whose game to play). I don’t recall ever being interested in organized sports or in any games with rules — I always wanted to do pretend play, and I always wanted to make the rules, because I wanted the real-life action to conform to my vivid inner reality.
I see the same thing with my kids. Christopher is writing a book (actually in his mind, it’s a series of books) called Lord of the Wizards. It’s a fantasy epic that borrows loosely from such sources as Lord of the Rings, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Harry Potter — supplemented largely by his own imagination as he hasn’t actually seen any of those movies or read the books yet. The three main characters in Lord of the Wizards are based on Christopher and his two best friends, which means that when he gets with his friends, all he wants to do is direct them in scenes from the story (which of course they know nothing about).
I watched him today at the playground, ordering Robbie into his role as “Valtron” and insisting that he pull out his sword and fight (Robbie was more interested in showing Christopher how he could hang upside down from the monkey bars, although to give them both credit they eventually figured out how this skill could be worked into the storyline). Later, I heard Emma taking her friend Nicole out into the yard and giving her a choice: “We can play pirates, or — oh! We can play mermaids!”
Highly imaginative children often come across as very bossy, I think, because they are always trying to cast their friends as actors in their private movies, trying to bring to life the stories that swirl inside their heads. Sometimes their friends co-operate; sometimes they don’t. After all, the friends may have their own dramas to enact.
Today things went relatively well: a few minor meltdowns, but for the most part everyone played happily. A highlight of the afternoon came when Christopher played and sang “Joyful Joyful We Adore Thee” on the piano in a very operative, over-the-top style, accompanied by (I swear I’m not making this up) Robbie belching the tune. Emma, of course, provided the gales of laughter. I thought I would have to spend a lot of time with her while the boys were playing, but in fact she played with them for most of the time Robbie was here, and while they were all out in the yard I actually had time to sit in front of the computer and do a little writing.
Like Christopher, I am writing a fantasy novel, although lately I have not been approaching it with his level of single-minded devotion (“I can’t come to supper! I’m working on my book!!“). In fact, for quite a long time I’d laid it aside and couldn’t get my head back into it. But today while watching the kids play I actually had a good idea for a scene I’d been stuck on for awhile, and I sat down and wrote it out, and got pulled back into the world of the story again. The best thing about growing up to be a writer is that you get to create those imaginary worlds and bring them to life as vividly as you could ever wish — and once you learn to do it on paper, you can stop bugging your friends to act out roles in your stories, which improves your social life, so everybody’s happy. At least, that’s how it worked for me. I’m hopiong for an equally positive outcome for the next generation of creative minds.