Wrestling with My Son’s Inconvenient Imagination

Wrestling with My Son's Inconvenient Imagination. (Photo: Young white boy leaning against a statue of a dinosaur hatching from an egg)

When I hear parents say, “I don’t like playing pretend with my kids,” I think, “Oh, I love it!” But then I stop right there. I’ve realized that like all things in parenting, there’s an exception. A big exception.

That’s because I love playing pretend with my older son (nicknamed Sprout) when it’s time to actually play. Just not all of the time. He frequently doesn’t distinguish – or refuses to distinguish – when it’s time to play versus time to get stuff done. If he’s supposed to be getting ready for bed, he’d rather pretend to play drums or zoom around a roller coaster. Taking toys away is no use – the really good stuff is in his head. He can sit on the stuffed chair in his room and weave elaborate worlds out of whole cloth.

Sometimes, I try to play along. But if I change the parameters, he responds the way most kids in pretend play do: “That’s wrong! It’s not doing that!” Mama, the train is clearly not chugging to the bathroom. Or he’ll pretend to go along with me, promising “we’ll get off at the next stop.” Then the time to the “next stop” is longer than it takes between real subway stops. Hm.

Other times, I just get annoyed and try to force him to do whatever needs to get done. That always goes so spectacularly well and never, ever backfires. Never.

Taking A Different Perspective

While it’s still annoying at times, I’m trying to see this ever-engaged imagination in a different light. In fact, I suspect it’s just another variation of one of the things I love the most about my husband.

A pencil and blank ceiling could distract my husband. Unlike the “Squirrel!” stereotype of people with ADD, he’s a daydreamer. In contrast, I’m typically focused. My mind works linearly, laying down arguments and ideas in nice, even paths. I think as I write – sentences and paragraphs at a time. But these two styles complement each other beautifully.

The best illustration of our dissimilar styles happened the summer before our senior year of high school. We were both ushers at the Saratoga Race Track, a fancy horse racing track. We’d show people to their seats and wipe them off before they sat down. We “worked” for approximately the first two hours of the day and spent the rest of the time doing absolutely nothing. I despised it, finding myself intensely bored in the first two hours. Thinking was fine, but if I couldn’t write down my thoughts, what good was that? Chris loved it – he got the freedom to think about anything he wanted, all day long.

Talking to Chris at the track helped me stay sane; talking to him now  sparks my imagination. His tangents bring me on places I never expected to go. Our quiet moments together create space to think that I would try to fill with stimulation otherwise. His ability to make entertainment where I couldn’t inspires smiles and laughs.

Maybe if I look at Sprout more that way when he’s daydreaming again, I’ll have a bit more patience. Maybe I can respect the worlds in his head the way I respect those I write on the page. Maybe I can think about the creative adult he’ll become – or the creative child he is now. Maybe a slight change in perspective is all I need to embrace a little more play and imagination in my day.

For more on loving children just the way they are, check out Learning to Love My Son Exactly Where He’s Standing. To get more on parenting and growing up, be sure to follow us on Facebook

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