Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Neverending Story

I love watching my kids engage in creative play. This summer, with their limited technology time, it’s what they do more than anything else. Inside, outside, upstairs, downstairs, a constant stream of sound and motion, the enactment of writing out loud.

Thirty-plus years ago, Pete and I did the same thing. For us, it was all Star Wars all the time. We had dozens of action figures and, while elements of the movies were sometimes re-created, generally the plot and characters were a jumping-off place for our (mostly Pete’s) crazy imaginations. The green carpet in the living room (ah, the 70s) was “Green Stuff,” a substance so sticky that once you stepped in, you were forever stuck. Crock, the big stuffed frog with one broken eye, was the only creature who could move through Green Stuff unhindered and our characters often caught rides on the friendly guy’s back.

The red linoleum in the entryway was hot lava, of course, and the blue braided rug in the dining room was water. There was regular daylight, but when every light we could find was turned on, it was “Full Blast Daylight,” creating conditions so blinding even the twin suns of Tatooine couldn’t match them. And you always had to watch out for the “Deadly Colors,” a mass of whirling I-don’t-really-know-what inspired by Pete’s crazy scribbling with those old 10-color pens. The Deadly Colors didn’t hurt you when they engulfed you, but if you stepped out, you were instantly killed.

All of the storm troopers were completely addicted to Fig Newtons, so whenever they had the rebels surrounded someone only had to point and yell, “Fig Newton Man!” and the inept imperial forces would whirl around to find the guy who had their fix. Meanwhile, the sniggering good guys would dash off to safety. Our Star Wars figures climbed trees and jumped out of them with plastic grocery bags tied to their shoulders as parachutes. They bushwhacked through tall grass, excavated the sandbox, and wandered through the giant plants and flowers of Mom’s gardens. Childhood heaven.

With my kids, the characters are different, but the spirit is the same. Now they take on the personas of the heroes and villains of their favorite video games: The Legend of Zelda, Mario Bros., and Pokémon. In a big mash-up of the plots of a dozen different adventures, they explore haunted
mansions, fight epic battles, meet bizarre creatures and drink Lon Lon Milk. There is a great deal of laughter (and also fair amount of arguing, but that’s just kids). The game never ends. It has pauses, when there are places to go, jobs to do or technologies to enjoy, but it always picks up where it left off. The kids are even frequently in character at meals, which, frankly, gets annoying. But the creativity is free flowing and joyfully innocent. How could I discourage that?