Monday, January 24, 2011

The Land of Make Believe

Last week was a big black hole with regard to blogging, for me anyway. We had the holiday on Monday (hopefully more about that, with pictures, another day), I taught a workshop on Tuesday, my first class on Wednesday, tried to clean the house and do all the laundry and grocery shopping Thursday, started a new Bible study on Friday morning (more about that later), and then went to an all-afternoon series of doctor appointments, which Jennie calls "being violated in about fifteen different ways." Let's not speak of it anymore. On Friday evening, I came home and got into bed.

Saturday I needed to reconnect with my family again in some form, so I set out something that I got probably six years ago when Lucy was still a baby.

But...let me back up. Here's a dilemma I think a lot of parents are faced with. You want to encourage imaginative play with your kids, yet you don't want to a) lie to them and/or b) cause them not to be able to differentiate reality from fantasy. (Not that I personally think that's a big problem. I'll take fantasy any day. It pretty much works for me.)

Now the first problem that probably pops into all our minds is...Santa Claus. I'll just give you my personal take on Santa, and honestly, I don't care a whit about what other people do with their kids. Absolutely no judgement from me either way. But when my mom was a little girl, she believed in Santa until she was around 6 or so when the big girls on the school bus told her, "You know Santa's not real." She said she was shocked, and her first thought was, "Then I bet God's not real either."

So what we do at our house is tell Lucy and Elaine that Santa was a real person who lived long ago, but now he's just fun to pretend about. Lucy learned about Christmas around the world this year at school, and in Germany, in addition to Santa, there's a naughty elf named Hans. She came home and told us at dinner that "Even though Santa is pretend, Hans is definitely real because we saw a picture of him on our computers." Well, if it's on the Internet, it must be true.

Our big challenge is to impress on the girls that not everyone thinks the way we do, and it's incredibly rude to spoil anyone else's fun. So if you meet someone who believes in Santa, just go with it and don't tell him you think he's not real. That's easy for Lucy, who'd rather die than hurt anyone's feelings, but it's Elaine's personal mission to make sure truth is known so she's, as it's known at our house, a "blurter."

I guess she blurted out something about Santa to her cousins at Christmas (which Lucy valiantly tried to cover), so one night before lights out, I rerererere-had the discussion with them about not ruining things for people.

Lucy said, "Elaine, how would you feel if someone came up to you and said, 'The Naughty Leprechaun is not real!'"

Elaine sat bolt upright in bed and said, "That's different. The Naughty Leprechaun IS real! He messes up our kitchen and gives us gold coins and everything!" [Implied "duh" there.]

I'm still caught in the dilemma because I love make-believe, and that brings me back to this weekend (finally). When I was at my previous job, we created diagnostic tests for kids and some of them involved manipulatives. A few years ago, they were revamping the tests, and we could take our pick of the manipulatives from the old tests. As I perused the tables, something caught my eye--boxes of miniature people figures, the tallest about five inches high.

Do you remember that old show from the 70s on CBS--Captain Kangaroo? With Bob Keeshan? That is what I watched every single day when I was a little kid. I adored it. Forget Sesame Street or the Electric Company or anything else (if you decide to watch that linked clip above, I get the hugest wave of joy nostalgia when I see it). With the Captain, you didn't have to figure out problems or practice your alphabet or do anything overtly academic. It was just fun and using your imagination, and at the close of each show he would say, "Moms and dads, please read to your kids today!"

One of the features I loved on that show was called the People in the Bookcase. Behind the books on the Captain's bookshelf were little people who had adventures (do you see where this is going?) So when I saw those miniature people on the manipulatives table at work I thought, "People in the bookcase! Lucy will love it when she's older!" Then I stored them in the back of my closet and forgot about them...until Saturday.

I got the people out to see what I've got--a Caucasian family, an African American family, some elderly people, and a dog. I wish I had an Asian family too, bummer. Then while the girls were busy, I went to the basement to our large bookcase--sidenote: a sentimental piece of furniture for me because, while extremely ugly, it's the first piece of furniture I ever bought in my life, at Kohler's junkyard in Lombard, IL, which has since burned down due to all the junk stored there. I might have spent $15 on it. Anyway, it's a big, deep case, perfect for storing either multiple layers of books or one layer of books and some miniature people behind them.

At first I thought I should have furnishings to go with, but then I thought better of that and decided it would be much more fun for the girls to make their own.

So, on the ground floor I installed the Caucasian family, named the Thibedauds. On the second floor is the African American family, the Nelsons. On the third floor, I separated it (with books) into two apartments--one with Mr. Philips and his son Jed, and the second with two elderly ladies who are the Nachman sisters, Patricia Anne and Mary Alice.

Then I took Lucy and Elaine to the basement and showed them the people in the bookcase. They were thrilled.

"How could they move into this apartment building without any furniture?" Lucy asked.

"These are hard economic times," I said. "They knew this was a nice building with two girls who might help them furnish their apartments."

They spent all afternoon on Saturday and all afternoon on Sunday finding things to make beds and tables and chairs and bathtubs, etc. for the new families and also decided on more first names, since there were mothers and fathers and children in both the Thibedaud and Nelson families.

At night I went in to check on them; Elaine was already asleep, but Lucy was still awake.

"Mom, this was just the funnest time ever. I'm soooooo glad we have people in the bookcase. But...I have to tell you something horrible. I was looking at Mr. Philips and guess what it said on his leg?" She lowered her voice to a horrified whisper. "It said, 'Made in China.' It just ruined all my fun when I saw that. Did you put those people there?"

"Oh, Lucy," I said, sidestepping onto the parental slippery slope. "That probably just means his pants are made in China. I bet our pants are made in China, too. Pretty much everything is."

She looked relieved. "Good," she whispered, "because I tucked them all in bed tonight, but I think they're planning to have a party after we go to sleep to celebrate being in their new home."

I'd honestly love to know what other parents do in these kinds of situations. I feel that imaginative play is crucial to a child's development. I think if you don't allow kids to develop quality inner resources, they'll fill that space with meaningless junk instead. Plus, it's so much fun.

There you have it. People in the bookcase. Come over and play with us sometime. And don't let anyone tell you they're not real.


Bill Brown said...


I am in the same camp as you. Having a healthy imagination is an amazing and awesome experience. I love your idea of having a family living in the book on Captain Kangaroo...though I must admit I liked the rabbit and his crazy desire to have carrots on Capt K better (at least I remember that:))
Great idea about Santa....I know that Jen and I had already decided that we were going to let Emma Rose enjoy Santa...but I like your spin on it. I also believe that our imagination has a part in the whole message of the gospel....since in is the only "fairy tale" to ever really come true. I could say more...but I believe you get my meaning.
Thanks again for your words! I appreciate them. Oh...had lunch with Chuck last week. I am planning on hanging out on Feb 9th to watch season premier of "Justified".

Pam said...

pants made in China =)
My three boys are grown now, but when the oldest was four, I explained to him that Santa lived a long time ago and people liked to make believe he brought gifts. We went Christmas shopping. A clerk asked him,"What is Santa bringing you for Christmas?" He answered,"Didn't you know? Santa Claus is dead!"
We're still laughing =)

Shannon said...

I LOVE it! I want people in my bookcase! I think you need to post some pictures...

I find this difficult, too. Far be it from me to halt some good, imaginative play! I usually say something like, "Oh, yes. Some people do believe that's true. What do you think?"

All 3 of my kiddos had (have) great imaginations. I think that's because we didn't always have TV/noise on. We let them play, play, play. That's what they still love to do.

Just a couple weeks ago, I called Ken into the family room because I could see our son out in the yard swinging his sword around and posing. He was all dressed up in a cape and boots, and was watching his reflection in the window. From the angle the sun was shining, he couldn't see us, enjoying the view. He was holding his head high and speaking like a noble knight. You could see the honor in the way he carried his sword and swirled his cape.

Only a very unworthy parent would ruin a moment like that, and call a child back into reality.